I kind of understand what Illinois Republicans are going through, as they struggle to enforce the party line on gay marriage, an issue on which fewer Illinoisans agree with them every day. They want to be authentic. They want to stand for something. They don’t want to compromise on what they believe are eternal, God-ordained values. Being Republican means standing up for tradition -- and there’s no institution more traditional than marriage between a man and a woman. It’s deeper than tradition. For most of us, it’s a biological imperative.
This Washington Post article by pollster Andrew Kohut is a couple months old, but it’s worth quoting, because it illustrates the Illinois Republican Party’s problem:
In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today.
The outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the GOP what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.
The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
In Illinois, Republicans are even more estranged from voters. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democratic incumbent so weak he barely survived his party’s primary, won election in 2010 by running against the Republicans’ right-wing image. The problem for Illinois Republicans is that their party, and its ideology, are now dominated by Southerners. It’s the end result of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, in which he plotted to woo neo-Confederate voters disgruntled by the Democratic Party’s support for civil rights.
It allowed Republicans to dominate American politics for a generation -- until the party became so Southern it began turning off Northerners. The Republican Party was initially so successful in Illinois because it was founded to oppose Southern conservatism. The Republicans’ first two presidents -- Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant -- were Illinoisans who did more than any other Americans to end the South’s traditional institution of slavery.
An Illinois Republican Party that’s perfectly in tune with a national platform determined by Southern politicians is never going to succeed, because it’s going to stand for beliefs that are the antithesis of what Illinoisans have believed for the last 150 years. It will, by its very nature, be un-Illinoisan.