Karen Ocamb

Are Log Cabin Republicans Influencing the GOP?

Filed By Karen Ocamb | May 13, 2012 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: gay marriage, gay rights, GOP, LGBT rights, Log Cabin Republicans, marriage equality, R. Clarke Cooper, same-sex marriage

Andrew Sullivan, reported on Saturday about an apparently leaked memo from highly regarded pollster Jan van Lohuizen, who polled for the Bush re-election team in 2004 when Karl Rove put 11 antigay marriage initiatives on state ballots to drive turnout among conservatives and evangelicals. The memo to GOP insiders and operatives warns that if Republicans continue their rhetoric and attacks on gay people after President Obama announced his support for marriage equality – they could well render the party irrelevant.

One of the key talking points of the memo is about Conservative fundamentals:

"As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, has been saying this for months, including issuing a warning on Friday:

Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper with openly gay Houston Mayor Annise Parker at the Haas Convening on March 11, 2012 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Marriage equality has captured the nation’s attention, and the response to President Obama’s announcement is evidence of the tide turning in favor of equality for all.....Americans can be certain that the President would not have made this decision at this time if it were not in his best political interests. In addition to energizing his base and distracting attention from a failed economic record, the trap is laid for any Republican who responds with intolerance....

Governor Mitt Romney’s statement in opposition to not just marriage but civil unions jeopardizes his ability to win moderates, women and younger voters, especially as a large majority of Americans favor some form of relationship recognition for their LGBT friends and neighbors. Ultimately, the response of the Republican candidates this election cycle will determine not just endorsements by Log Cabin Republicans, but the votes of millions of Americans who are simply tired of the culture wars.

Romney either didn't get the memo or the LCR press release or didn't care. On Saturday, May 12, in an effort to win over young antigay evangelicals who think Romney's Mormon faith is a cult, the candidate evoked Religious Right extremist Rick Santorum and the culture wars in addressing students at Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

"Culture matters. As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman," Politico reported Romney as saying. "The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention," regarding Romney the importance of family.

Antigay extremist Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was pleased. "It was an acknowledgment that the issues that social conservatives and evangelicals care about are important issues to Gov. Romney and as he sees them [as] part of a successful economic platform for the country," Perkins told Politico. "I think Barack Obama handed Mitt Romney a tremendous opportunity when he came out and said he endorses and supports same- sex marriage...It's not just the issue of marriage, it's everything else that's associated with it...I think the lines are becoming more bolder, more clearer."

In Log Cabin's press release, Cooper - who is on the Finance Committee of the Republican National Committee - said that LCR has "long believed that supporting the freedom to marry is the right thing to do and the President’s joining this effort is in the nation’s best interest." But he charged former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie with "taking the bait" that makes the GOP look intolerant by "bringing up the twice-failed Federal Marriage Amendment and the unfortunate vote on Representative Heulskamp’s (R-KS) amendment re-affirming DOMA last night. Democrats are eager to fundraise off of this issue. It is in the best interests of Republican candidates to be measured and disciplined in response, recognizing that a generational shift has occurred.”

LCR Executive Director Clarke Cooper on a panel with National Stonewall Executive Director Jerame Davis (l) and moderator and Raw Story managing editor Michael Rogers at the Haas Convening March 12, 2012 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

This was a point Cooper repeatedly underscored during a discussion at the March 12 Haas Convening of bloggers and reporters in Houston, Texas. Cooper talked about how LCR has been quietly working within the Party to educate members on "Homo 101" – that sexual orientation is not a choice, for instance, and working on issues that serve as common cause, such as tax equity.

But Cooper was reticent in acknowledging that GOP leaders are very concerned with the real and perceived messages that are essentially ruining the Republican brand. At one point, I noted that even respected columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan was worried about the GOP's "war on women" urging what amounts to government intrusion into the individual lives of women by mandating transvaginal probes and denying access to contraception - all of which extrapolates to the LGBT community. I asked him if he agreed with those who say the Religious Rights is driving the Republican Party over the cliff. He said he and many others were concerned that's exactly what's happening:

It could go over a cliff and that's the warning there. My family - before the Revolution, we were Tories. Then we were Federalists. Then we were Whigs. And now we're Republicans. Well, all those parties - post Revolution – the Whigs died out in the 19th century. So when I look back at my own family history - I know where our family saw a party die.

And I'll tell you - that conversation is not an isolated conversation. These are conversations happening with lawmakers and policy makers - including national committee men, national committee women, elected leaders, your conservative bloggers and columnists. It is why groups like Crossroads are really looking closely at data, the polling that they're doing and seeing where the divisive issues are actually dangerous. And how the younger generation of the party will be lost because - again - politics is about addition. It doesn't matter if you're the DNC or the RNC looking at the map at what's blue and what's red - your (mission) is to actually gain voters and gain constituencies, not lose voters and lose constituencies.

Now that Romney's gushed over the evangelicals, will the party leaders pull him back or will the campaign see antigay rhetoric as the ticket to winning the general election? Not getting nearly as much attention is a statement by California Gov. Jerry Brown Saturday that the state deficit has hit $16 BILLION, with the prospect of deep cuts to come. Perhaps with the culture war lines drawn so sharply, candidates Obama and Romney can debate who'd do what with the economy - information LGBT people are anxious about as well since LGBT people can still be denied a job or fired simply for being or perceived as being gay or trans, among other issues.

Here are excerpts from Clarke Cooper’s comments at the 2012 Haas Convening that provide insight into what Republican insiders are saying. For all the terrible rhetoric and antigay actions, Cooper sees a silver lining in that leaders, lawmakers and policy makers are being forced to take a stand on issues of equality or the party could find itself irrelevant with the new and upcoming generation of conservatives.

In 2008, you had 28% of LGBT voters chose McCain over Obama. In 2010, in the mid-term cycle, that number rose to 31% of LGBT voters voting Republican mid-term House and Senate races. So this is just federal here, this isn't at the lower level.

That said - and this is what we say inside the party is - that kind of support will not continue, if anything, it will shrink if the antigay or mean-spirited diatribes continue to come from any of he candidates mouths - particularly the presidential primary candidates. And this is what has been so astounding in the primary cycle is how dis-connected the presidential primaries have been to the House and Senate races. Just this week was the National Republican Congressional Committee - the NRCC's summit in Washington. The summit theme was "Re-build the American Dream." There's nothing in this summit document or program that is antigay - at all.

The same week, last week, we had the Republican Committee's majority fund quarterly meeting. Again, nothing antigay in this document. Everything here focuses on the unifying bread-and-butter issues: the economy and jobs.

So one of the questions we've asked inside the party as the LGBT arm is: if the NRCC can get it and the NRSC can get it and the RNC can get it, why can't are presidential primary candidates get it? And there is legitimate concern, not only amongst the pro-equality Republicans, as well as those who are ready to stick their toe in the water - is how damaging can some of the rhetoric be?

Politics is about addition, regardless of what side of the aisle you stand on, and it's during this time that you have former chairman of the RNC and current governor of Mississippi [Haley Barbour) says: 'purity is the enemy of victory.' Well, that's applicable in any race and he wasn't just referring to Log Cabin, he was referring to the conservative Latinos, the Black conservatives - he was referring to the broad voter spectrum. And he's got it.

So from us - where we sit - there is a silver lining on where we're going. It's the right trajectory. If one looks at it generationally in the conservative movement...the younger the voter, the more supportive they are of LGBT issues. The polling is there - internal polling, as well as external polling is there to support that. At a minimum, if you get at 35 and younger, they're agnostic, at best they're supportive. The CRNC - the College Republican National Committee - in 2009 removed any reference or inference that would be directly or perceived as antigay in their position paper and their platform documents for the CR's. College Republicans, like College Democrats, become adult Republicans and adult Democrats so when you see that trend line happening at the youth vote - it's very important.

State parties are actually starting to review what's happening and what's in their documents. Texas, unfortunately, has some of the most homophobic state party positions. However, states like Hawaii and Oregon last year removed any antigay or perceived antigay language from their state party documents and have taken aggressive efforts to reach out.

A lot of this, though, is driven by the younger voter and there's a tremendous generation gap and this is where the younger conservative can actually reconcile that one can be for a limited-size government and that translates into the government not impeding upon one's personal liberties or personal life.

Log Cabin's R. Clarke Cooper with Denis Dison, Vice President of Communications at the Victory Fund (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Cooper also noted "a depressing yet spirit lifting metric" after looking at the excel sheet of meetings with lawmakers and staffers after the 2010 vote on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Most members of Congress are Baby Boomers and above, he said - but most staffers are 40 and below. There were 15 House Republicans who voted for repeal of DADT, 8 Senate Republicans and 3 Senators that abstained. BTW, he said, "Orin Hatch abstaining is practically voting for repeal, in my book."

But something extraordinary happened after the vote - a "breach of protocol" that's "not done" by congressional staffers.

We got a number of calls from House and Senate staffers saying, 'I am so sorry. We were so close. We were working so hard but my boss just couldn't get there.' For whatever reasons - either they didn't have the political courage or they didn't take their staff's counsel. But the silver lining in that these staffers in many ways will run for office themselves, they end up becoming party leaders.

I share that because when we did our after-action review, we were stunned by that data. It was a rare instance, two – out of all those House and Senate offices where we had staff actually take a negative stance. This isn't junior staffers- we're talking all up and down the chain.

Cooper also noted that the Big Money going to Gay Inc, or LGBT organizations, is also going to the party.

Why is that significant? Because donors don't want to see the party going in the Rick Santorum direction. In fact, if anything – oddly enough, he's been helpful to those of us in the party who are calling for a return to those core conservative values of individual liberty and individual responsibility and not having the government impede upon one's life; not having a theocratic perspective on governance. .......

[T]he move [by the GOP primary candidates] to out do each other and be perceived as antigay is extremely detrimental not only to their races - it's actually having blow back or a negative impact on Republicans running elsewhere. That's a very candid conversation that's happening in the conservative movement right now. You don't have to be a Log Cabin Republican to be concerned - if you are in the conservative movement.

That dialogue, that debate that's happening is very well noted. I personally would like to think the outcome will be positive because the people who've been lukewarm or on the sidelines and have not been as vocal - it is forcing their hand. It is forcing the hand of a number of lawmakers and policy makers on my side of the aisle who say 'Enough's enough.' So there are consequences to this: that's what elections are for. Divisive politics have negative return. When you've got the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, having a 'Come to Jesus' moment and saying, 'Purity is the enemy of victory' - there you go. ....

Things that have come out of Rick Santorum's mouth are actually anti-conservative in nature. The true definition of conservatism is not having that intrusive role or that impediment upon one's individual liberty - but also impeding upon local or state governance. I would say that what's happening has an eventual positive outcome because there's a certain threshold. It's one thing if you are active within the party, as I am, where we've actually been vocal and engaged for quite a while. It's another thing for someone who's been passive in the Republican Party to actually be forced, to actually get angry and take action.... [I]t has forced people to get off their duffs in some respects.

And frankly, if it does mean that there's going to be some kind of push or force of hand - if not this cycle, then immediately after - so be it. This is actually a clarion call for many Republicans to actually return to where we came from. Not moving to something new - but actually going back to where we have been. Fortunately, for some, the wake up call is now. A little later than I would like - but I see that as a silver lining.

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