Explaining The GOP’s Muted Response To Obama’s Decision Not To Defend DOMA

Greg Sargent argues that the GOP’s rather muted response to the administration’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) suggests that the party doesn’t consider marriage a winning issue in the coming 2012 elections. And that’s probably true. The GOP condemns Obama for the decision but does not promise (with the possible exception of Michele Bachmann) to hold-up the mantle of traditional marriage or defend the law in the administration’s stead. Consider this compilation of Republican responses to yesterday’s DOMA news:

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the President will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation.”

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): “President Obama’s personal politics are trumping his presidential duty. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Defense of Marriage Act, a Democratic President signed it into law, and the Justice Department has a duty to defend it. It is deeply disturbing to see politics further distort the Department of Justice.”

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): It’s increasingly obvious this President cares little about the Constitution, but cares deeply about pandering to liberal interest groups. Traditional marriage is the foundation of America’s culture, and the President’s refusal to defend marriage undermines our nation’s strength.

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): The Justice Department has a responsibility to defend the laws passed by Congress regardless of the personal political views of the President or the Attorney General. The Obama Administration’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act is irresponsible.”

REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA): “Rather than focus its attention on working with Republicans to cut spending and get our economy moving again, the administration is diverting its attention and abandoning the government’s defense of marriage… Once again, this demonstrates a woeful lack of leadership on the part of the president and his administration. ”

MIKE HUCKABEE: “I’m deeply disappointed…They are clearly out of sync with the public…When the voters are so overwhelmingly [supportive of DOMA] what does the president believe he knows that citizens in all these other states don’t.”

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I’m sending you this urgent message because if we don’t join together and take action today, it could be a crushing blow to the traditional marriage movement….This is not the end of the fight to save traditional marriage, it is only the beginning. I will continue to do everything in my power to fight back against Barack Obama’s attacks on marriage.”

Sargent argues that this is “another sign that while the culture wars have reasserted themselves with a vengeance in the GOP’s anti-abortion push, gay rights issues have lost virtually all their potency and bite.” “As many have observed already, the generational divide within the GOP is asserting itself on gay rights in a way that it simply hasn’t on abortion.”

Indeed, a growing number of Americans have no problem with expanding marriages to gays and lesbians or at least don’t see it as a major national priority. This is a losing issue politically, and given the prominence of LGBT issues in the early states of New Hampshire and Iowa, there is likely no need to add more fuel to the fire or distract from the economic message. A greater emphasis on the anti-gay agenda would also elevate the candidacies of fringe candidates (like Bachmann) who are unlikely to prevail in 2012.

Meanwhile, the anti-gay groups are taking a much harsher view of the DOMA reversal.