It's been a rough few weeks for the GOP. The Charleston massacre triggered a national outcry to remove Confederate symbols from public places, followed quickly by U.S. Supreme Court decisions affirming Obamacare and the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states.
One Republican lawmaker called it "a tsunami of substantive social change."
Here in Louisiana and among most of the GOP presidential aspirants, the response has largely been one of denial — that's how the Republican lawmaker described it. He went on to say, sagely, "I suspect that the party's survival as a viable political structure will depend wholly upon how we collectively respond to these cultural shifts."
Clearly, he's not among the saber rattlers, like Gov. Bobby Jindal, who chose to throw more red meat onto the fire rather than douse the flames. These are difficult, and dangerous, times for the Party of Lincoln. The problem is not cultural but generational: According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of young Republicans support same-sex marriage.
Do culture warriors have a future? Did they even have a past?
Nationally, the GOP has consistently lost when it campaigned primarily on social issues. The first President Bush was a traditional fiscal conservative; his son George W. coined the term "compassionate conservative." They won without waging cultura warfare.
Today's field of Republican presidential hopefuls ridicules former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for (in their eyes) wimping out on social issues. His willingness to "lose the primary to win the general" election was evident in his response to the High Court's same-sex marriage case. He reiterated his support for the traditional concept of marriage, but added, "In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side."
In Louisiana, Republican state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell advised clerks of court to wait 25 days before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It took all of a weekend for the legal adviser to Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer to advise otherwise. (Disclosure: That legal advisor, John Litchfield, is also Gambit's attorney.) Gegenheimer, a solid conservative, issued the state's first license to a same-sex couple and was quickly followed by clerks across the state.
These fissures are not isolated. Republican state lawmakers voted in large numbers for higher taxes and fees in the recent legislative session. If taxes are no longer verboten, is resisting social change all that's left of the GOP agenda?
Fiscally, Republican candidates for governor should breathe a sigh of relief over the Obamacare ruling. Without it they would have to find even more money to balance Jindal's legacy deficit.
The fate of Confederate symbols is a mixed bag. The Southern cross is not part of Louisiana's state flag and is not flown at the state Capitol. But many public spaces have statues of Confederate military and political leaders, from Robert E. Lee (who never lived in Louisiana) to Jefferson Davis.
The push to take down the statues will touch off another culture war. The GOP's response to this and other seismic social changes will shape its politics, and its prospects, for the next decade.