In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare and today’s decision legalizing gay marriage, prevailing wisdom has it that the Obama administration and social movements it champions won a major victory. But the rulings did something much less obvious. These nine justices, but especially Republican members like Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts, almost single-handedly saved the Republican Party from itself.
Following decades of attempts to exploit social and culture war issues like abortion, women’s rights, capital punishment, gay rights, gun rights, etc. the GOP is increasingly on the wrong side of the divide. Its leaders outdo each other with ever more outlandish and extremist notions, which play well to their own particular narrow, regional constituencies, but don’t play at a national level.
The Republicans are an increasingly narrow Party which, while popular in pockets of the country, have no national constituency. That’s where the Supreme Court comes in. Imagine if these two decisions had gone the other way: Obamacare and gay marriage struck down. There would have been a huge outcry around the country. The 6-million Americans now covered by the new health plans would’ve mounted a revolt and demanded the heads of the Republicans, which would’ve rolled in the next election.
Similarly, the LGBT community nationally would’ve made its best effort to make the GOP pay for toppling gay marriage. Democrats, and especially Pres. Obama would’ve been handed a huge plum by their right-wing opponents. In effect, the latter would’ve been digging their own political grave.
That’s why Kennedy’s intervention in the gay marriage case and Roberts majority opinion in the Obamacare case are so important. In each, the majority ruling presented a moderate centrist position which looked to ratify a growing consensus around each issue. That’s why Justice Scalia was so appalled by Kennedy’s opinion. For Scalia, the Republican Party is a party of radical conservatives, not a moderate one. And he wants nothing to do with a Party of temporizers.
But Kennedy and Roberts did the Party an enormous favor. They allowed it, with these rulings, to remain relevant to American voters. That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party won’t come up with new hare-brained schemes (and we hope they will). But for now, the GOP saved itself from what might have been permanent implosion.
The future doesn’t look good, however. All the major GOP presidential candidates possibly excepting Jeb Bush, come from the outlandish stream of the Party. They oppose abortion, gay marriage, civil rights. They support guns and the police-military-national security state (with the exception of Rand Paul). They support states rights. These guys can’t win a national election. None of them. Frankly, I doubt Jeb Bush can.
That doesn’t mean I support Hillary Clinton. She is a fatally compromised candidate made of the same cloth as Roberts and Kennedy (with perhaps a slight liberal tint). But she will likely be the next president.