The Wink and the Nod

The country is moving in a distinct direction on gay rights, but the Republican Party remains roughly where it was in the mid-to-late 1990s. That's on the surface. As I've written before, people who vote Republican are becoming more broadly tolerant, younger self-identified Republicans don't care about gay rights issues, and the party's political class in Washington is almost openly apologetic about anti-gay demagoguery.

The base, for all intents and purposes, remains opposed to gay rights. The base, however, is a subset of the party, and a shrinking one. Where will the party go in the future? Will a dynamic David Cameron-esque modernizer come along and nudge the party in line with the issue's broader vector?


Maybe. 

But that's six and a half years away at the earliest, when an unapologetic conservative supporter of gay rights, like former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., could run.

A better bet would be to look to GOP women. Laura Bush speaks openly about her support for marriage equality. The former first lady. Things have changed in the party since Republican women idolized Anita Bryant. Republicans like George W. Bush and John McCain have used their spouses to hint their own inner moderation on social issues. (Bush and McCain did this in 2000; McCain did in 2008; even Bush seemed to come out in favor of civil unions before the November 2004 election -- his wife was sitting beside him in that interview.) The men vow to toe the line of conservative purity, but their wives openly differ. Call it the politics of the wink and the nod.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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