Slow Rise, Fast Fall

With gays as a wedge issue, Republicans toss Log Cabin inclusion

Standing with the chair of the Log Cabin Republican’s national board, a second board member, and LCR’s political director, Patrick Guerriero, the organization’s executive director, fired the latest salvo in what has been a long-running battle between the gay Republican group and the right wingers who dominate the Republican Party.

“This fight is bigger than one platform, it’s bigger than one convention, and it’s bigger than one president,” Guerriero said at an August 30 press conference. “This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.”

The group was releasing a television ad that would run during the Republican convention and that it expected would be seen by convention delegates “hundreds of times.”

The ad opened with the image of and a quote from Ronald Reagan, an iconic figure in Republican Party politics, and then asked “Will we unite on things that matter most, like supporting our troops and winning the war on terror?”

Then images of Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell and Rick Santorum, three iconic figures of anti-gay bigotry, crossed the screen followed by a picture of Fred Phelps, the Kansas preacher known for picketing funerals of gay men, holding two signs reading “God Hates Fags.”

The voice over continued with “Or will we divide the American family with the politics of intolerance and fear that can only lead to hate? Our choice is clear.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, founded in 1978, have more than 12,000 members. They are conservatives and moderates who believe in lower taxes, limited government, a strong national defense and a confident foreign policy. They believe that gay and lesbian Americans ought to share fully in the American dream.

Gay Republicans, but not LCR, reached a high point in 2000. During the Republican primaries that year, then Gov. George W. Bush declined to meet with gay groups. The ensuing outcry forced him to sit down with 12 gay Republicans—the so-called Austin 12—and he declared himself a better candidate for having done that.

LCR had backed Arizona Sen. John McCain against Bush and they were excluded from that meeting, but any rift between the group and the Bush White House quickly healed.

In early 2001, the group came to the defense of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft when he was accused of quizzing a job applicant about his sexual orientation in a 1985 interview.

When the 2002 midterm elections resulted in Republicans taking control of Congress, LCR reassured the wider queer community. The group had contributed money to 30 Republican candidates and endorsed 70.

“We spent over a quarter of a million dollars on candidates this cycle,” an LCR spokesperson said in 2002. “The Republican Party is starting to realize that you build a party by addition not subtraction.”

In 2003, when Guerriero took over LCR, he spoke of the solid relationship the group enjoyed with Congress and the Bush administration.

“There is a great line of communication across the White House and across Washington, D.C. with this administration,” Guerriero said at the time. “There is a significant dialogue between our organization and members of the U.S. Congress.”

But in 2004, Karl Rove, a senior Bush political advisor, looked at the president’s wavering poll numbers and hatched a strategy to win his boss a second term, according to the group.

“Karl Rove became obsessed with two things,” Guerriero said. “The loss of the presidency in 1992, the sense that they had let the base of the party go away, and… the fact that the president lost the popular vote in the last election.”

The president reached out to that right-wing base by endorsing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and potentially prevent couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships from obtaining any of the benefits of marriage. It was a stunning repudiation of the queer community and the gay Republicans.

“The general rule was a sense of betrayal and outrage,” said Bill Brownson, chair of group’s national board, at an August 29 LCR event held in Bryant Park. “We had a good relationship with the Bush administration and the White House.”

The social conservatives got more red meat in the party platform, which backs the Federal Marriage Amendment and calls for a ban on civil unions and domestic partnerships. It declares that homosexuality is incompatible with military service, a position that seeks to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and return to an outright ban on gay men and lesbians in the military.

LCR, along with Republicans for Choice and the Republican Youth Majority, had offered a “unity plank” saying that Republicans may disagree on “planks dealing with abortion, family planning, and gay and lesbian issues,” but the party “welcomes all people on all sides of these complex issues and encourages their active participation.” The plank was rejected by a platform committee that was dominated by social conservatives.

“The final straw for us was this party platform,” Guerriero said. “It was incredibly insulting.”

While the LCR line is that communication with the White House continues, the split looks complete. Frank Ricchiazzi, an LCR co-founder, said the Bush administration stopped talking with them in December of 2003. Tim Schoeffler, the board vice chair, said the Bush campaign had not sought their endorsement.

But they remain committed Republicans. So they went to war against the right wingers, not George W. Bush, the leader of their party. They chose to not use their most potent weapon—their endorsement, at least not yet. Had Log Cabin formally declined to back Bush and announced that during the convention it would have been powerful.

“We’re not going to steal the president’s thunder,” said Andy Hendricks, a national board member.

A decisive move like that might have meant the end of LCR’s ability to function in the party. The board will vote on its endorsement on September 7 and announce it the next day.

LCR leaders insist that the influence of the right wing in the Republican Party will fade and that the party’s future is represented by the prime time convention speakers that include moderates like McCain, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“When you look at polling when it comes to questions of gay and lesbian equality in the next generation, social conservatives have already lost,” said Christopher Barron, LCR’s political director. “They know they’ve lost. That’s why they are fighting so desperately to hang on this year.”

The social conservatives do not look like a group that is losing. They are boldly pursuing their agenda. In Pennsylvania’s April Republican primary, they ran conservative U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, a longtime moderate. Specter won, but just barely.

LCR’s future in Washington, D.C. is not bright.

“If Bush wins it’s going to mean that an organization like Log Cabin is going to shift its efforts to the states to train the next generation of leaders,” Guerriero said.

In later interviews, other LCR members said that Guerriero’s comment should not be interpreted to mean the group would be banished from a second Bush administration. They certainly would not be embraced.

“Whether he wins or not there, is an opportunity to work with moderate Republicans who are more ideologically aligned with Log Cabin Republicans than the radical right who are certainly ascendant, at this point, in the national party,” Brownson said.

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