05/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Steve Schmidt: Political Ambulance Chaser

During my years in politics, I've learned that there are three main types of politicos.

First, there are those who are well-ahead of public on the issues and advocate for them even if not popular (i.e., the visionary type). Al Gore is an excellent example, as he tried to raise the red flag on the environment and was one of the very early opponents of the Iraq War. Similarly, former President George H.W. Bush was also prescient on many foreign policy matters during his term, especially his unpopular decision not to march to Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War. Howard Dean is another.

The second type are a category I'd describe as the stubborn old goats. Those politicos cling to positions well after the real debate is over and public opinion has embraced it. Sen. James Inhofe's continued blather about global warming being a hoax is a classic example, as are those who continue to argue against stem cell research.

The third type are the calculating political opportunists. These folks generally have few core values and try to anticipate a tipping point on a major issue and then quickly shift allegiances so that they can be on the "right side" as things settle. These people don't simply flip on issues due to the prevailing political winds. Instead, they are very thoughtful and calculating, always looking to get a strong head start on upcoming political change and positioning themselves to profit on their timing. You might call them political ambulance chasers.

Per a story on CNN today, allow me to highlight a classic example of this latter type:

Steve Schmidt, a key architect of John McCain's presidential campaign, is making his first public return to Washington a bold one.

Schmidt will use a speech Friday to Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, to urge conservative Republicans to drop their opposition to same-sex marriage, CNN has learned.

"There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage," Schmidt will say, according to speech excerpts obtained by CNN. "I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one's liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage."

...In his speech Friday, Schmidt will acknowledge that his is a "minority view" in the GOP, but will also say, "I'm confident American public opinion will continue to move on the question toward majority support, and sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up to it." 

I think there is little doubt that the recent developments on the gay marriage front (Iowa Supreme Court decision, Vermont state law, introduction of legislation in New York) have forced the issue beyond the tipping point. Those first dominoes have fallen and nothing is going to stop this from being accepted public policy in a matter of years, especially in a place like California where Schmidt resides and does business.

So while it is great to see people like Schmidt so dramatically shift their positions on such a hot-button political issue, we should all clearly realize see this for what it is: political ambulance chasing. But we should welcome him to the scene nonetheless.

Mark Nickolas is the managing editor of Political Base.