Not long ago, Republican Party operatives were openly gleeful that the gay marriage issue was going to wreak havoc on the Democratic Party, whose candidates mostly refused to endorse the concept while still being perceived as being for it. The result: Candidates who alienate those in favor and against gay marriage.
Now it looks like the ring may be on the other finger. USA Today reports that George Bush has, in the words of pollster Andrew Kohut, "tiptoed through the tulips" on the matter by endorsing state-level experimentation with marriage.
On Tuesday, Bush said for the first time that he would, "if necessary," support a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. But he said he wouldn't prohibit "whatever legal arrangements people want to make" that are "embraced" by states.
That was a reference to civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, now recognized by Vermont and California.
Predictably, that sort of talk isn't sitting well with members of the GOP base:
Bush's distinction between marriage and other "legal arrangements" brought protests from some conservative leaders. "I'm concerned that the president thinks that counterfeit institutions such as same-sex unions are OK, that he doesn't see that they threaten to devalue the real thing," says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
The embedded GOP strategy is that the base has "nowhere else to go," that social conservatives (and foreign-policy conservatives critical of Bush's invasion of Iraq) will in the end throw the switch for the president over any Democrat. But recent presidential elections–characterized by meager turnouts and the winner never getting even 50 percent of the vote since 1988–may be telling a different story altogether.