One surprising legacy of John McCain's presidential run may be internal Republican Party debate over same-sex marriage -- led by McCain's daughter Meghan and his former campaign strategist Steve Schmidt
Was the McCain-Palin ticket secretly the most pro-gay rights Republican campaign of the last three decades?
But look what's coming out of the McCain camp. During the campaign, the presidential candidate broke with some of his fellow conservatives to say that he opposed a federal amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman (though he approved of state measures). But most significant is what has been happening this week:
First, McCain's up-and-coming daughter Meghan declared that she considers herself both pro-life and pro-gay marriage. And today, reports indicate that McCain's key strategist, Steve Schmidt, will appear in front of the Log Cabin Republican club and announce that the GOP should embrace same-sex marriage:
"It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others," he says in the speech. "On the contrary, it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence -- liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
"That, I believe, gives the argument of same sex marriage proponents its moral force," Schmidt will say.
Politically, he will say that becoming more open and accepting is critical to reversing an alarming trend for Republicans — a shrinking coalition. He will note that Republicans should be especially concerned that McCain got crushed by Barack Obama among voters under 30, who are generally more accepting of gay couples and at odds with the GOP.
In certain ways, Schmidt's comments are even more significant than Meghan McCain's. Not only has Schmidt run political campaigns. He's also a protege of Karl Rove's. In short, he can read the electoral crystal ball -- and it his instinct is suggesting that being against some form of legal protection for gay couples is becoming a political obstacle for many Republicans.
Now, these are most definitely not mainstream views as yet in the party -- and certainly not in its conservative Southern base. However, the places where the party has the greatest hopes of rebuilding its strength are on the coasts and the Midwest (where it's pre-1960s roots lie). Those areas are becoming increasingly more tolerant on the gay issue (as will undoubtedly be clear as a broader debate expands in Iowa following the recent court decision).
McCain himself will likely play the good conservative soldier and say that these are the views of two individuals speaking their own personal viewpoints. But, his daughter certainly reflects a viewpoint more like that of many of her generation of younger Republicans. And Schmidt doesn't sound like this is going to be a one-off speech for him. It looks like there is the beginning of true debate on the topic within the Republican Party -- which is more than can be said of the situation even one year ago.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.