BY ED ESPINOZA
The President’s position in support of same sex marriage is one that will have an impact on the 2012 election, but the ripple effects of this move will also have profound implications in 2016.
We’ve seen an outpouring of support for the President’s public declaration this week, one which coincides with the evolving positions of the American electorate on this issue. And though it’s still not entirely clear how this will affect the political calculus in 2012, it is a “Profiles in Courage” moment as this is a policy stance that the President could have easily shelved until after the election – a time when there is no electoral consequence.
But with all of the excitement, criticism and electoral calculation that was bantered about this week, one thing went unmentioned: the profound implication this move will have on the 2016 election and the future of both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
For Democrats, the President has given political cover to others in the Party who may take the same position publicly. And come 2016, support for this issue could be so standardized that we could very well see a field of presidential candidates where every major Democrat supports gay marriage. On the surface this seems like a no-brainer, yet it is a stark contrast to what the Democratic presidential field looked like with regards to this issue just four years ago – where none of the major candidates supported gay marriage.
Some could say that there is tremendous risk here as well, because if Obama loses the 2012 election (I don’t think he will), some officials may point to this public declaration as a reason for a loss. But even if the President were to lose, we’ll likely continue to see others stand up for the gay marriage. After all, it’s rare for public support to move backwards on socially progressive issues after a subject has worked its way into the mainstream.
For Republicans, it becomes another hurdle in the form of a social issue that they must address. Will they continue to be the Party that holds on to ideals from a bygone era, or will this be the tipping point that compels the Party to embrace new philosophies? And if so, will that tipping point extend to other issues? Even if it does not affect Republicans across-the-board, will we see at least one major Republican go against the grain and test the waters as a candidate who supports same sex marriage? Maybe this candidate will also be pro-choice.
It would be interesting to see how a candidate like this would fare among Republican voters – particularly those who prefer to focus on economic issues and have grown weary of defending increasingly unpopular social stances. But even if a candidate like this were to run and not be viable, the mere emergence of a Republican testing the waters with these positions would be ground breaking.
And if no Republican runs in support of these issues, that too would be impactful as it would signify a Republican Party that is doubling-down on its traditional positions in the face of a changing electorate.
The gay marriage issue is one we will continue to talk about in 2012, but it could represent a significant change for both Parties come 2016.
ED ESPINOZA is a Democratic consultant and cable news political analyst. He previously served as the Western states political director at the Democratic National Committee. Find him on Twitter: @edespinoza