Are Republicans Falling Into a Democratic Trap on Transgender Bathrooms?

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North Carolina Clashes With U.S. Over New Public Restroom Law
This could be another Terri Schiavo moment when GOP priorities just don't resonate with most Americans. Photo: Sara D. Davis/2016 Getty Images

I first began to suspect Democrats of throwing chum into troubled waters on transgender-bathroom labeling upon reading reports that conservatives were determined to launch a platform fight at the Republican convention to make sure “bathrooms” were an important part of the GOP agenda. Yeah, bathrooms. Ridiculous, right? Not if you are a conservative religious activist who believes LGBT rights opened the gates of hell and are ushering in the End Times. I’m sure more than a few Christian Right folk heard about criticisms of the North Carolina bathroom access law and thought: This is what we’ve been talking about all these years.

So suddenly there’s a new issue on the horizon that has not only caused some problems between the presumptive presidential nominee of the GOP and its most important constituency group, but that is distracting Republicans into a fight most of them — and certainly Donald Trump — probably don’t want to participate in. 

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent takes a look today at the Obama administration’s directive to schools across the country to let transgendered students decide which bathroom to use, and discussion of the issue by other liberals, and concludes that Democrats are “leaning in” on the issue.  Sure looks that way to me, too. Yes, the schools directive was bland and bureaucratic, and not really mandatory, but was nonetheless designed to set cultural conservatives off like a rocket, partly because of the subject matter and partly because it was an example of federal “meddling” with local control of schools, which a lot of these folks deplore as Big Secular Government getting between godly parents and their impressionable children. 

It’s unlikely a whole lot of swing voters care that much about this issue one way or another, and those who think about it for five minutes probably figure the administration’s approach was a reasonable solution to a small but unavoidable problem. But even as they (and the schools, and the country) move on, conservative activists will remain transfixed, fighting for new bathroom labeling laws in the many states they control, fighting for platform planks, fighting with Republican politicians who are embarrassed by the whole thing, and maybe even fighting with each other on how to fight this new exotic import from Sodom and Gomorrah. This could even become a Terri Schiavo moment, wherein many Americans discover once again that the Christian Right and the political party in its thrall just don’t look at the world the way the rest of us do.