Log Cabin Leader on Presidential Race: Hope & Change for GOP
Several years ago, conservative gay pundit Bruce Bawer argued in a book aptly titled "A Place at the Table" that the "soft-left" (my term, not his) politics that dominates in gay political circles have effectively locked LGBT Americans out of the public forum. As the group arguing from the inside of the GOP for gay inclusion, the Log Cabin Republicans have often come in for criticism from the "gay establishment."
But R. Clarke Cooper, the current head of the Washington, D.C.-based group, doesn't let such pro forma ostracism bother him too much. "I like to remind some groups that I won't mention, you can't do it without us. We're a two-party system," he said he in a recent interview with EDGE.
In the wide-ranging interview, Cooper looked over the landscape of GOP candidates for the presidential nomination. He definitely sees the glass as half-full. Log Cabin doesn't endorse a candidate prior to the GOP convention, to be held this year in Tampa, Fla. After the convention, the group has the option not to endorse the party's candidate, although such a step would be highly unusual (and would undoubtedly result in loss of clout within the party echelon).
Even so, Cooper doesn't hesitate to point that there are two tiers of candidates, roughly equivalent to those who have gay delegates and those who don't. Even though the candidates themselves are much less responsible for delegates, which are generally chosen by statwide campaign committees, it's a pretty good indication.
That's apparent when you look at the candidates who do -- and don't -- have any gay delegates:
Candidates with gay delegates
• Mitt Romney
• John Huntsman
• Newt Gingrich
• Ron Paul
Candidates with no gay delegates
• Rick Santorum
• Michelle Bachmann
• Rick Perry
• Herman Cain
Such a disconnect points to what's at stake in this campaign season. When I brought up Pat Buchanan's now-infamous "Culture War" speech at the 1992 GOP convention, in which he told the party that gays, along with other groups, had effectively created a "fifth column" to undermine traditional values.
"There's a huge difference between 1992 and 2012 -- thank God!" Cooper said. "Rick Santorum shows the worst behavior. But that is not the trend within the party. He is bucking the trend. College Republicans and the Young Republicans are either 'agnostic' or don't care, or they're supportive of gay issues."
The three candidates who placed on the top in New Hampshire didn't sign the obnoxious Iowa "family pledge" put forward by right-wing evangelical leaders. And it's worth noting that of the candidates at the bottom of the list above, there are only two standing.
Of the two, Rick Perry shot himself in the foot big-time with his now-notorious ad, in which he lamented that gays can serve openly in the military and the obligatory nod to the mythical "war on Christians." The ad, which quickly became known as "Brokeback" because of the setting and the costume, went on to become the most "disliked" video in the history of YouTube.
"There was a huge fight in his campaign about running that ad," Cooper says. "Plus, it was very naïve to think a niche ad like that wouldn't go viral in these days of the proliferation of mass media." Later, Cooper found out that a number of staff "found his behavior boorish" -- proof of the old adage that success has many parents but failure is an orphan.
With Perry effectively hightailing it back to the wide vistas of Texas, that leaves ... Rick Santorum. If Log Cabin is officially noncommittal about candidates, Cooper is refreshingly open in his distaste the unabashed gay-bashing that has characterized the failed U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
"There is a challenge within the party," Cooper acknowledges. "I'm acutely aware there are those who don't like us. But the timelines are against them. All polling shows that trend. When we were lobbying about 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' in 2010, when we were working to get a Republican coalition, the thing that's fascinating is that the congressional staffers -- all younger than congressmen -- would say, 'If it were me, I'd vote for repeal.'"
A Generational Divide
That generational divide is perhaps personified by the dual crusades of Meghan McCain, the daughter of the last GOP presidential candidate, to remake the party in a gay-friendly image, and the last-ditch appeal of Rick Santorum to the vestiges of Buchanan's cultural crusade.
In Oregon, Cooper points out the happy circumstance of the state's young Turks challenging every point of anti-gay language in the state's GOP platform. And in Hawaii, the younger GOP'ers managed to get an anti-gay state chairperson fired.
Fortunately, Cooper says, gay Republicans are not alone. Blacks, Hispanics, environmentalists are among those challenging an increasingly embattled Old Guard. He also notes that the current chair of the national party, Reince Priebus, is only 39. "We've never had such access with the Republican National Committee until now," says Cooper, who openly revels in the open hostility shown to Priebus by social conservative groups like the Family Research Council.
But this time, their attacks are sticking.
"I'm not sure that would have happened in 1991," Cooper notes. "Back then, if any one of those entities would have threatened the RNC not to have the Log Cabin participate, they would have been successful."
As another key party member, he points to the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a noted ally on gay rights. When I pointed out that she represents parts of Miami, such as South Beach, with a large, affluent and politically powerful gay constituency, Cooper countered that she has "taken a lot of heat by constituents in her district by taking on issues of importance for the LGBT community," such as signing on to repeal DADT, and, even more significantly, being the first Republican to step outside party lines to support repeal of the noxious Defense of Marriage Act.
Other rising congressional stars in our galaxy include Nan Hayworth, a Republican who represents a relatively liberal district just north of New York City; and another Empire State congressman, Richard Hanna, who represents a more conservative district much further Upstate. Even so, Hanna is an out and proud (straight) member of the House's LGBT Equality Caucus; and Hayworth, the House's deputy whip, wears her Log Cabin button in her lapel.
Next: Progress & Prejudice