MORE ON GAYS….Is gay rights a good topic for Democrats? Turn it around: is it a bad topic for Republicans? You bet.

Here are three articles on the subject. First, the conservative Washington Times reports that the Christian right is furious not just at the possibility of the Republican party reaching out to gays, but at its mere failure to defend Rick Santorum loudly enough:

“We urged party leaders not to put President Bush’s re-election at risk in 2004 by shrinking from the cultural wars now,” said Gary Bauer, a Reagan White House domestic policy adviser, who attended last week’s meeting with Mr. Racicot.

Social conservatives at the meeting also criticized the “tepid response” by the RNC to attacks on Sen. Rick Santorum after the Pennsylvania Republican was interviewed about a Supreme Court case involving a Texas sodomy law. Mr. Racicot “insisted that they had been stout in their defense of [Mr. Santorum], yet they did not issue any statement defending Santorum,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Second, here is the Economist, a neutral observer, on the same topic:

There are still three good reasons to think that the barking from the right may not be entirely toothless. To begin with, social conservatives are not as pragmatic as the deal-doing business conservatives are. They are absolutists, who are willing to go to the stake for certain issues.

Second, social conservatives are now buried deeper inside the Republican establishment than ever before….Anyone who doubts the clout of these Christian conservatives within the party should study the fate of last year’s bankruptcy-reform legislation, which the business wing of the party wanted. Social conservatives destroyed the bill because it included a provision designed to crack down on anti-abortion protesters.

A third reason for Mr Bush to worry about social conservatives is that they do have an alternative to voting Republican: they can stay at home. Karl Rove points out that some 4m Christian conservatives who voted in 1994 failed to vote in 2000.

And finally, here is Andrew Sullivan:

There is no question which way the middle of this country is moving. None whatsoever. Santorum, Delay, Robertson, Bauer, Connor, and the rest, represent an increasingly isolated, bitter and angry constituency that is fast losing the argument. The question for the GOP is whether it wants to reach out to a growing and increasingly accepted community, or whether it wants to tie its fate to a group that is out of step with basic standards of American tolerance, equality and compassion.

This is a great wedge issue, folks, and it doesn’t have to be about gay marriage. How about federal protection for being fired due to sexual orientation? That has overwhelming support among the electorate but would be almost impossible for Bush to support. How about Social Security survivor benefits for gay partners? That’s supported by two-thirds of the electorate, which means virtually all independents and moderates. How about loudly defending Thomas McLaughlin and daring President Bush to do the same? (Oh, and here’s the lastest on that.)

Karl Rove wants anything but this to become an issue, and that by itself should be reason enough for Democrats to press it hard. So far, Bush has been able to avoid saying anything about gays that makes him look like a bigot, so our goal should be to make him do just that by forcing him to take a direct stand on a simple, substantive issue. If we can, he either loses about 5-10% of the moderate electorate who are appalled by his opposition, or he loses 5-10% of the far right who are appalled by his support.

What more can you ask for?

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