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April, 28th 2009

Michigan County Party hits out at Huntsman over civil unions... and discounts a potential route to rebuilding

– Liz Mair

So... Jon Huntsman, the Republican Governor of Utah, of whom I am a bit of a fan, is set to visit Michigan later this week in a trip that could, if one were cynical (and of course I'm not cynical in the least), be seen as an initial testing of the waters for a 2012 presidential run.  And it looks like some folks up there aren't happy about it:

A Michigan GOP organization canceled an appearance by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. this weekend, apparently because of his support for civil unions.

The decision by the Kent County Republican Party drew praise from the head of a conservative pro-family group in Michigan critical of what he called Huntsman's "homosexual agenda."

[...]

Gary Glenn, head of the Campaign for Michigan Families, said in an e-mail release that Kent County's "principled stand sends a strong message nationwide that grass-roots conservatives will not embrace liberals who want to abandon the GOP platform's commitment to traditional family values in favor of promoting homosexual activists' incremental assault on religious freedom, marriage and the family."

Fortunately, it appears that the new Chairman of the MIGOP had the good sense to step in and do something sensible here:

The new chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Ron Weiser, stepped in Tuesday. Now Huntsman will appear at a state party fundraiser during his two-day swing through the state.

"The state party chair called the governor to apologize and said the state is excited to have the governor coming and looks forward to seeing him this weekend," Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said.

Michigan GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said the conversation between Huntsman and the party chairman was private.

She said in a statement, "Michigan Republicans are excited to host Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (R-Utah) and listen to his ideas on education reform. Gov. Huntsman has made Republican solutions on job growth a reality — something Michigan Democrats have failed to do."

Quite right.  Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm seems to have been an unmitigated disaster for her state in just about every way going.  Huntsman, on the other hand, has a high approval rating in his state, which is one of the reddest in the country.  And even if one isn't sold 100% on his policy prescriptions (I've noted before his solid CATO fiscal ratings, which are a good indicator to me), he's certainly got ideas about things like education, health care and the environment that too often, Republicans are seen as having nothing worthwhile to say on.  As such, I'd say the MIGOP took the right approach here, while the Kent County Republican Party is left looking, dare I say it, pretty anti-Big Tent and pretty 2004 as opposed to 2012.  Huntsman isn't in favor of actual gay marriage, first of all, but even if he were, it's worth noting that at least if you buy the statistics cited in this post by Kristen Soltis-- who is in fact a pollster and undoubtedly more expert in analyzing numbers than I am-- he'd be on the more forward-thinking side of the gay marriage debate.  Note that I use that term "forward thinking" purely in terms of looking at where America is going in terms of its thinking on this issue, not in terms of what is "progressive" or not in any objective sense of the word:

On the issue of homosexual marriage the distinction is even greater. Some 39.3% of respondents in the 2008 GSS said that they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that homosexuals should have the right to marry. That number soared to 53.4% among those 18-34, with one out of four in that age group strongly agreeing. As one looks at each age group, as age increases so too does opposition to marriage for homosexuals.

To be sure, not all Democrats are supportive of gay marriage or homosexuality. Some 48% of those who identified as "strong Democrats" said that homosexual sex was "always wrong" as did 50.7% of Democrats overall. Furthermore, while support for gay marriage is more common among Democrats, 38.1% of Democrats do not believe that homosexuals should have the right to get married.

Yet regardless of how narrow or wide the chasm is between the two parties is on the issue, the differences between the beliefs of young voters and the beliefs of the older segments of the electorate - particularly the modern day Republican electorate - are significant.

Note that last sentence: "the differences between the beliefs of young voters and the beliefs of the older segments of the electorate-- particularly the modern day Republican electorate-- are significant."

Huntsman seems to get this, and to understand what Soltis writes later in her post: That the difference between the position of older voters (reflected by the general GOP position), on the one hand, and that of younger voters, on the other, "certainly presents a serious challenge to the party's long-term ability to swell its ranks among young voters."  It's too bad that the Kent County Republican Party either doesn't, or refuses to act in a way that would reflect that they do for perhaps deeply held philosophical reasons but ones that nonetheless run the risk of looking overly rigid and dogmatic and frankly shortsighted.  According to a Washington Post/ABC poll released yesterday just 21% of those surveyed currently identify as Republicans, whereas 35% identified as Democrats and 38% identified as Independents.  If that doesn't say "withering on the vine," I'm not sure what does. 

And separate to the general unappealing nature of the GOP and at least some groups associated with the general Republican-conservative outlook right now (which I would argue is not helped by the general attitude exhibited towards Huntsman in this case), we come full circle back to the issue of demographics.  Soltis cited in her post this quote from one Dr. Morris Fiorina and his co-authors in Culture War?: The Myth of a Polarized America (p. 124), "If the commandants on the 'orthodox' side hope to win a culture war over homosexuality, they had better do it soon - their potential ranks are being thinned by mortality."  That may sound morbid, harsh and unpleasant.  But it is also, I think, a valid point worthy of consideration by all Republicans-- including those in Kent County, Michigan. [intro]

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