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Friday, December 9, 2016

As the presidential election heats up, a question of strategy recurs: Why do candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination oppose gay marriage, directly or indirectly, when polls show a growing number of Americans becoming more tolerant of gay marriage?

The question re-emerged after Gallup released two new surveys on Tuesday and Wednesday. The first showed a record high percentage of Americans supporting gay marriage — 60 percent. The second showed for the first time a majority, 51 percent, saying that homosexuality isn’t a choice, but rather a trait one is born with.

The surveys concluded, moreover, that this trend should continue to grow in the future, as younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to “express positive views of same-sex relations.”

During a radio interview in Texas last week, Senator Ted Cruz said the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.”

Last month, Governor Bobby Jindal promised executive action to allow discrimination against homosexuals if Louisiana’s Republican-controlled legislature fails to pass a measure to that effect: “We will be issuing an Executive Order … to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Why would serious GOP candidates say such things when the polling data is so clear? Why risk appearing outside the mainstream?

One answer is commonplace among partisans. Conservatives are staunchly opposed to gay marriage, especially evangelical Christians. Naturally, Republican candidates must appease the base, but in appeasing the base, they end up alienating everyone else.

Conventional wisdom holds that you can’t win the presidency on a platform that conspicuously divides mainstream voters. And if you’re not aiming for the political center, you’re not a serious contender. This is why most liberals dismiss Cruz and Jindal as cranks.

It’s a good story, a variation of another story called “Demographics Is Destiny.” As the country grows more racially and culturally diverse, the country will naturally favor the priorities of the Democratic Party while leaving the older, whiter Republican base on the sidelines.

But what if it’s not true?

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