Signs of a Coming Gay Reckoning for the GOP?
Reince Priebus knows his party has a problem. Taking the stage Friday at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., one didn’t have to listen long to the RNC chairman’s remarks to come to that conclusion.
"I’ve said many times before that the policies and principles of our party are sound," Priebus told the assembled RNC faithful at a meeting that’s theme was "Building to Victory." "However, as we look to grow the ranks of our party, we must all be very conscious of the tone and choice of words we use to communicate those policies effectively. We all know the GOP has to get out of our comfort zones and go to places we haven’t been for a while and engage and welcome new voters."
Priebus’s remarks mirrored suggestions made in an "autopsy" report of the Republican Party released in March, which argued for increased outreach to minority communities, including the LGBT community. While not advocating for an overhaul of the party platform, which still opposes same-sex marriage, the report did call for an effort to make the party more welcoming in image and tone.
Shortly after Priebus left the stage, the Detroit Free Press reported that Priebus, along with the chairman of the Michigan GOP, Bobby Schostak, are calling on an anti-gay member of the RNC to resign. "For the good of the party, we believe Dave Agema should resign," Priebus and Schostak said in a joint statement to the newspaper. Agema, who previously served in the Michigan House of Representatives, has a history of anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks but has come under fire for recent comments he made on Facebook, one of which praised Russia’s anti-LGBT law as "common sense."
Priebus and Schostak are the latest to join a chorus of Republican officials calling for Agema’s resignation. Earlier this month, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said that Agema’s "approach has become a distraction for those of us who are standing up to the political establishment, whose push for bigger government, more corporate welfare, and less individual liberty have hurt our party."
"Defending civil liberties is at the heart of the Republican Party and our Constitution," Amash said in a statement. "As I’ve demonstrated with my words and record, I am trying to grow a new generation of Republicans that includes more gays and lesbians, racial-ethnic minorities, women, and young people."
Betsy DeVos, a former RNC member and wife of a former GOP candidate for governor of Michigan, told The Detroit News that Agema has damaged the Republican Party.
"Leaders have a responsibility to create an inclusive, welcoming party, not to exclude," DeVos said. "What’s going on is cause for concern about our future prospects as a party and our ability to bring people around to our point of view and long-term agenda. We are driving people away who might otherwise support what we stand for."
Agema declined to attend this week’s winter meeting at the last minute, sending a proxy to vote in his place. He said his liberal critics within the GOP have chosen to "elevate this discussion" to the RNC winter meeting and "make it a drawn out fight between liberals and conservatives within the party."
Agema’s defiance, however, signals a broader problem for the GOP as they seek to build a coalition that can win a national election. While the RNC’s autopsy report released last year stated, among other things, that to appeal to younger voters the GOP must not be seen as "totally intolerant of alternative points of view," that strategy has not been embraced - and in Agema’s case outright rejected - by some of the party’s loudest voices.