Almost a year ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got into a contentious exchange with NPR's Terry Gross over her own "evolution" on the issue of marriage equality, and settling on the then-preferred view that gay marriage was progressing nicely on a state-by-state basis. On Wednesday afternoon, the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign and Foundation for Scooby-Doo Revival signaled a significant change in that position, via a statement to The Washington Blade's Chris Johnson (emphasis mine):
Adrienne Elrod, spokesperson for Hillary for America, affirmed Clinton believes same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in a statement to the Washington Blade.
“Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right,” Elrod said.
It's a bold political move that could pay huge dividends in a general election fight that will take place on a very pro-equality terrain, but an unusual one to roll out though a press aide. It could be yet another spoke in the less-is-more strategy that has the press scrambling after Hillary like the cast of A Hard Day's Night, or it could be an example of a campaign spokesperson getting out ahead of the candidate's skis, in much the same way that Vice President Joe Biden stole some of the President's evolutionary thunder on same-sex marriage.
Chris Johnson, the reporter who first publicized the quote, is a longtime White House correspondent and the first member of the white House press pool from a gay publication. He's also a relentless and pointed questioner on topics of LGBT advocacy, a trait with which several White House press secretaries have had to deal carefully, so as not to veer outside the administration's lines on these issues. It seems hard to believe that the campaign would calculate making such a big shift through a spokesman, rather than that they were drawn out by skillful qustioning by a veteran reporter.
Intentional or not, there's no getting this horse back in the barn, which sets up a great dilemma for Republican presidential candidates, who must try and make it through a primary without irradiating themselves for the general. As the flap over Indiana's RFRA law vividly demonstrated, opposition to LGBT equality plays really well in Jesus' pizzeria, but is politically toxic everywhere else. Staking out the "constitutional right" position takes the fallback "states' rights" arrow out of the quiver for moderates like Jeb Bush, and makes it more likely that an unelectable anti-gay loon makes it through.
Update: The statement from the Hillary Clinton campaign was in response to a story by Buzzfeed News' Chris Geidner in which he asked if Clinton still favors the state-by-state approach. After publication of the article, Geidner published this update Wednesday morning:
“Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right,” Adrienne Elrod, spokesperson, Hillary for America, told BuzzFeed News.
This, I think, also qualifies as a Jedi mind trick, and places the decision to roll out this shift in a new light. It's always better to arrive at the right place on your own, rather than be maneuvered there. And it took them two days to get him that answer.