There was no small bit of controversy following the Clark County Republican Party’s vote to drop planks opposing same-sex marriage and abortion from its official party platform.
The Clark County GOP was accused of everything from going liberal to abandoning its principles for politics’ sake to implicitly admitting the party had been wrong all along. But it’s helpful to keep in mind a few things about the party platform:
■ It actually makes sense. The Clark County Republican Party has a strong libertarian membership, and libertarians believe government should be small and stay out of people’s affairs, whether it’s regulations and taxes or social policy. As the preamble says, “We ... affirm that this nation and this state were founded upon the principle that all people are created equal, that the powers of government are derived from the people for the purpose of protecting the people’s God-given right to be free and to choose their own pursuit of life, liberty and happiness; without regard to race, gender, religion, country of origin or sexual orientation.”
Seen against that backdrop, it’s social conservatives — who favor small government except when it comes to banning abortion or preventing marriage equality — who take an inconsistent stand, not the libertarians.
■ It’s the right thing. Recent court rulings show opposing gay marriage is increasingly a losing proposition, and abortion was decided more than 40 years ago. Shifting the party’s focus to more practical battles isn’t a bad idea.
■ It just doesn’t matter. While the party platform is the statement of a political organization’s principles, it’s not binding on that party’s candidates. There’s no sanction for taking stands at odds with the platform, such as losing the right to call yourself a Republican or a Democrat on the ballot. And that’s a good thing, too: The Clark County platform maintains that “the extension of taxes is a tax increase,” and several Clark County Republicans — along with Gov. Brian Sandoval — have repeatedly done that!
■ It may not matter even within the party. Although Clark County Republicans have made their stand, the state’s platform may not change. Republicans in 2012 approved a platform that clearly says “we support the family unit, recognizing the definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman as defined by the Nevada Constitution,” and “we affirm the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity of each human being from conception to death.” Yes, times have changed since 2012, and yes, Clark County’s party is the state’s largest. But Republicans from the Rest of Nevada will get their say at the state convention April 11-12, so it’s possible the social conservative language will remain.
■ It’s not all about politics. Although the party’s political director acknowledged there’s a growing gay rights movement in Nevada, there’s an even larger Hispanic population. And if Clark County Republicans were all about the politics, would they really have put this kind of language in the platform: “We believe that legal immigrants from all nations are pillars of our community and acknowledge their contributions; we welcome people from all cultures and races who support the Constitution of the United States, our country’s rule of law, improving and enforcing immigration laws, and securing our borders.” (emphasis added) It’s not exactly an endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, the thing you’d expect if votes were all the county GOP was after.
■ There’s still plenty of conservatism in there. Clark County Republicans are in favor of school choice and vouchers, against the Affordable Care Act, against the margins tax and sales and property tax increases; in favor of zero-based, balanced budgets and solidly behind the Second Amendment and “religious liberty.” So it’s not as if people should expect a lot of tie-dyed T-shirts, drum circles or hemp garments at the state party convention, although that would be kind of awesome.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.