(WASHINGTON) — A growing split in the Republican Party deepened Thursday when Clint Eastwood, the movie star who rocked the GOP convention by interviewing an invisible President Obama, joined the ranks of Republicans who are in favor of legalizing gay marriage.
The support for gay marriage by Eastwood and about 100 prominent Republicans, along with budding support within the party for immigration reform, is creating an obvious divide in the party. It pits moderate Republicans and party operatives on one side against conservative activists who drive turnout in the primary elections.
One of the four former Republican governors who signed the legal brief in favor of same-sex marriage is ex-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, who says there are days she “absolutely” doesn’t feel like part of the party because she says the GOP is being “defined by the talking heads and they don’t for the most part represent me.”
Whitman said she signed the gay marriage brief because it’s important to be heard and it’s “an opportunity to get this issue behind us.”
“We are talking about family values, we are talking about commitment that so many people hold in such high regard it shouldn’t make a difference if it’s between a man and a woman or two men or two women,” Whitman said. “We are the party of family values and limited government. Getting out of the bedroom is a good first step.”
Whitman, who is also the former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the purist conservatives are statistically a smaller number of people in the party, but are the loudest because of their role in the party’s primaries where voter turnout can be very low.
“It allows the most partisan people the first say in who your choices…and because they are the most partisan they are going to choose the most partisan people,” Whitman said. “They have influence beyond their numbers.”
Margaret Hoover, a GOP strategist and former George W. Bush staffer who signed the brief, agrees with Whitman, but said she always feels like a member of the party because she is “totally committed to changing it.”
“You can leave or you can change it and frankly we are having a lot of success changing it,” Hoover said. “We are making it truer to our principals and we are calling out the people who claim to be for individual freedom.”
Hoover said she thinks the people “gearing up for civil war” are the “social conservatives who insist on purity tests,” but there are “other elements of the party that are quickly trying to tamp that down and pivoting to, ‘No we are going to be the party of the big tent.’ We are going to get back to being a big tent party on social issues. We will be strict on fiscal issues.”
“It’s fair to say that increasingly behind the scenes Republicans are saying we have to be a big tent on social issues. Social conservative activists are going to hate that, [American Conservative Union president] Al Cardenas is going to hate that and his people are going to hate that, but that’s not the reality,” Hoover said.
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