Well isn't that special?
It seemed like just yesterday (OK, maybe it was) that the Senate GOP was gearing up for not only what they thought was a key vote commandoed into the back end of the 108th Congress, but a strategic coup that would draw base-exciting fodder from the 'nay' votes of Sens Kerry and Edwards. Both men of the chamber have selected the delightfully noncommittal but politically effective (and most reasonable position if you are actually against gay marriage) "against gay marriage, but not as an amendment" gambit. One wonders what being against gay marriage as the President constitutes, if you say up front "I disapprove, but will do nothing." Perhaps this is the grace of nuance, that a fundamentally inactive position can also be a fine interpretation of best legislative practice--let the personal conviction not interfere with the general liberty. I shall not bugger, yet I will defend to the death your right to bugger. (How pumped do you think the Marines would get on pep talks of "Let's go do our jobs, so that American college girls have the opportunity to hook up and raise a family of adopted Asian children as wife and wife! Hoo-AHH!")
This principled inactivism was such a good response to one of the thornier questions an elected official might face, that something funny happened--a few Republicans decided, "Hey, that's not too bad." Key in this decision was the baldly punitive way the amendment was written. As much as Wayne Allard and Marilyn Musgrave tried to argue that the second sentence only prevented states from having it foisted upon them, every time some of these moderate Republicans read the text, the more it seemed like it was preventing ANY state from recognizing gay marriage in the first place. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But now the bold talk of a single up or down vote to put people on the record, didn't seem so appealing to those who were considering going on the record FOR it. Some had pure Constitutional questions--for God's sake don't try to fuss with the founding documents during an election year--but others among the Chafees and Snowes and Collins were those who just weren't sure about a change to the Constitution that could stand to codify a restriction on the pursuit of happiness.
And the numbers climbed. What the GOP had hoped would be something approaching 60, was now definitely under 50, and horrifically threatening to bottom out around 38. When Santorum talks hopefully of 45 for a procedural vote tomorrow, you know he was throwing in some folks he was bluffing he could turn. Liberal or conservative, the worst kind of vote to be on record of is a losing one, especially a badly losing one, so now Bill Frist is in trouble: he's got a major policy push almost explicitly designed to use the Congress to set up an issue in the Presidential election, and suddenly people are starting to notice that's exactly what it is.
Here is the primary danger of playing to your base--your base is necessarily less than half of the total, which means at any time you could be on the ugly end of the stick if an issue turns against you. The vote that was supposed to isolate Kerry/Edwards as the team pushing a cultural elite value set, has become the vote that threatens to isolate the Bush/Cheney team as the ones pushing a vindictive and bigoted value set. The best way for the campaign to avoid any actual and lasting damage in this fiasco is to get the GOP leadership to back off the up/down vote, schedule a procedural one that doesn't have any primary effect, and not talk any more about it this year. Which is of course what they have planned for tomorrow and the near beyond. Whether it becomes hurtful to the BC04 campaign would only be gravy to Kerry/Edwards and the gay rights movement in general. The result here is that it does not stand to redound to BC04's favor, which--based on the political capital they spent on it--was a major goal for their re-election plan.