Republicans are running into red state objections as they try to create a wedge issue around transgender bathroom use.
The GOP strategy of trying to a reignite cultural war under the banner of attacking transgender people isn’t working out the way some Republicans hoped.
Fueled by right-wing evangelicals who have launched a bullying, bigoted crusade to turn public bathrooms into a lightning rod for a larger cultural shoving match, the so-called bathroom bill movement aims to single out transgender people, especially children, for ridicule and discrimination.
The issue’s now playing out against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s intolerant call to ban all transgender members of the U.S. military, the move that has been widely condemned as discriminatory and unnecessary.
But politically, the fringe-right’s bathroom crusade isn't working. Recent and pending political setbacks in Texas and Iowa highlight how the divisive issue isn’t paying off, even in red states.
In Texas, culture warrior Gov. Greg Abbott called a special summer session so legislators could wrangle over a bill to regulate public restroom use based on a person’s biological sex at birth. But thanks to a vast coalition of progressives, law enforcement, big business and even some Lone Star Republican leaders who have all expressed opposition to the bill, the initiative appears doomed and likely won’t even be brought up for a vote this week.
“CEOs from 46 Fortune 500 companies have publicly condemned the bathroom bill as discriminatory and bad for the Texas economy,” the Dallas Morning News reported. “Three of those firms are in the top 10, and 20 are headquartered in Texas.” Big business is worried the discriminatory bill would hinder their ability to recruit and retain top talent.
On Wednesday, the Dallas Stars of the NHL became the first professional sports team in Texas to publicly come out against the proposed bathroom bill. “We are proud of our home and want every visitor to feel safe at home here, too, and that’s why we oppose this discriminatory bathroom legislation,” announced team owner Jim Lites.
Meanwhile, in Iowa this week, Democrats in a rural, southeastern district shocked some observers by winning a special election to the state House by holding a district that Donald Trump won easily last November by 21 points..
The issue of transgender bathrooms had been featured prominently during the campaign, with Republicans launching a nasty attack ad on the issue against Democrat Phil Miller, saying he "voted to allow students to use whichever bathroom they associated with their gender identity ... We can’t afford to trust his poor judgment. Phil Miller: Out of touch liberal policies."
Miller had previously served as a local school board and had voted to keep in place a policy on transgender students being able to use the bathroom of their gender identity.
“Republicans hoped to reignite that debate to weaken Miller. But it didn’t work,” reported the Iowa Starting Line, a political website. “And the strategy may have actually severely backfired given Miller’s convincing victory that outpaced even Barack Obama’s levels of support in the district.”
Miller scored his biggest win in his home county of Jefferson, where a debate over transgender students using school bathrooms had previously been an issue of contention.
The take-away? “A Democratic candidate stood up for transgender students in the face of public outcry, was attacked for it in campaign ads, didn’t back down, and was still supported by the voters in impressive numbers,” the Iowa Starting Line concluded.
If Republicans are searching for wedge issues to divide Americans, demonizing transgender bathroom use doesn’t seem to be working.