When in games of influence players opt to pause, it's a sure sign that they're thinking through their next move. In the few days that followed the SCOTUS landmark same-sex marriage decision, I was struck by the cricket-like quiet of so many values voters. A God-fearing friend replied, No worries. There'll be no Christian jihad. But I wondered.
In mere media cycles, his quip was realized by drumbeats of civil disobedience, impeachment and cries for religious freedom by those most troubled -- GOP candidates for president.
To the broad populous, their plays were not challenges to take up arms so much as coded pings to pump up the many who are so offended by the court's support of gay rights. And, oh yeah, Obamacare. From the perspective of The Standard Table of Influence, here's how I called it:
Ted Cruz launched a trial balloon. "I am proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would subject each and every justice of the United States Supreme Court to periodic judicial retention elections." Was Cruz fomenting or hand-wringing? Having floated the idea of judicial impeachments, he then ran a play I call a screen on mom, apple pie, and all things Christian: "This week's assault was but the latest in a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and Judeo-Christian values that have made America great."
Bobby Jindal also favored the screen, but his was used to invoke sacred states' rights: "The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states' rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution." The Louisiana governor then declared, "Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that." Get rid of the court, was Jindal's headline, a call out.
Jeb Bush was more measured, resorting to safer framing plays with echoes of Can't-we-all-just-get-along. "In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate." Unlike Cruz and Jindal, Bush's message could hardly be mistaken as a Christian-right battle cry. In fact, his play was so anemic it'd be easy to mistake for a defensive deflect.
For Mike Huckabee, this was a chance to separate and elevate. Said the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher in a statement: "I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat." His plays were manifold: Screens on monarchs, labels on tyrants, and challenges to resist -- all of the inciting kind. "I don't think a lot of Christian schools or pastors are going to have a choice (but to commit civil disobedience)," Huck predicted, "[and] If I become president, please don't complain if I were to put out a nativity scene at Christmas."
Hillary Clinton, in the mean time, seemed to bask in the glow of The Great Liberation, tweeting her praise for the Supreme Court's decision: "Proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality - & the courage & determination of LGBT Americans who made it possible." So, too, did her party rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley who, likewise, employed a crowding play on their good judicial fortunes. Their strategy was akin to putting a loose cover on a long-shot threat.
Or so they might believe. The sentiments of these GOP hopefuls are deeply brooding, even desperate, and Democrat candidates will be forced to take them seriously. The question remains, then, what plays will they employ to counter the cries for religious justice.
Graphic courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC. Video image credit: ABC News
This post originates with the author's blog and SiriusXM POTUS feature, Plays for the Presidency, a weekly analysis of the moves and countermoves of hopeful and declared candidates for the 2016 elections for the U.S. presidency.