"[L]ook at the litany of accomplishments from this lame duck--from the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell to ratification of New START--and you'll see that an emerging group of centrist Republican senators made the margins of victory possible. Significantly, the name John McCain is not on that list.
Instead, one-time Tea Party hero Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Maine's centrist stalwarts Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Alaskan survivor Lisa Murkowski are at the heart of this new Mod Squad. In addition to departing Senators George Voinovich, Judd Gregg, and Bob Bennett, they have been joined on various bills by Indiana's legendary Richard Lugar, Illinois freshman Mark Kirk, and the Tennessee twosome of Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Even North Carolina's Richard Burr crossed party lines to support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
These Republican senators will hold the balance of power in the coming Congress. They represent the reasonable edge of the opposition--and they will be rewarded for their independence. Because winning their support will be essential to moving legislation forward over the next two years of the Obama administration."
The underwritten story of the DADT repeal is how significant a role the Log Cabin Republicans played in lobbying GOP members of Congress. The question is now - will LGBT Democratic progressives seek common ground with their partisan counterparts to move the equality agenda forward in 2011?
LGBT anger towards Republicans has been congealing since Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell targeted conservative Christian Republicans in 1977 in their crusade to overturn local ordinances prohibiting discrimination against gays. The anger turned into rage during the Reagan-Bush years when the government turned its back on gay people dying daily from AIDS.
But the intersection of the Religious Right and the Republican Party was not happenstance - it was a crafted strategy with devastating effect. It is therefore important to understand how crass political opportunism works - and how it can work to advance LGBT equality.
Lee Atwater, right, with President George H.W. Bush
Before there was Karl Rove, the "architect" of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election, there was Lee Atwater, the architect of George H.W. Bush's election in 1988. While Rove used antigay marriage initiatives to bring out the evangelical and social conservative vote in key states such as Ohio, Atwater used racism - epitomized by the "Willie Horton" ad - against Bush's opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
Before Bush the Elder, Atwater, then aged 29, was Ronald Reagan's political director in his campaign to win the1980 Republican Presidential nomination. According to a New York Times obit after Atwater died in March 1991 (at age 40), the GOP political guru developed his skills in negative campaigning growing up in Democratically-dominated South Carolina. “Republicans in the South could not win elections by talking about issues,” Atwater said. “You had to make the case that the other guy, the other candidate, is a bad guy.”
That was about winning elections - all's fair in love, war and politics. In the late 1970s and 80s, liberal Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill was known to argue partisan politics with his counterpart dapper Republican Minority Leader Bob Michaels, only to go out for drinks later or play golf together over the weekend. During Reagan's presidency, O'Neill called the former California governor and B-movie actor “Herbert Hoover with a smile” and “a cheerleader for selfishness” and the rich. But, as Reagan described in his memoirs that they were friends “after 6PM.” Reagan once joked about a Valentines card he received from O’Neill: “I knew it was from Tip, because the heart was bleeding.”
House Speaker Newt Gingrinch
But that style of professional camaraderie started to change with the rise of the brash new GOP leader Newt Gingrich who charged O'Neill's successor, House Speaker Jim Wright with ethics violations, though the investigation revealed Gingrich himself had engaged in exactly the same practice. Wright's resignation catapulted Gingrich into prominence and subsequently the leader of the Republican Revolution that ended the Democrats' 40-year control of Congress. It also ushered in the politics of personal destruction, which continues to this day.
But that harsh tactic wasn't reserved exclusively for Democrats. Despite Reagan's commandment to not speak ill of a fellow Republican, the idea of "party discipline" was more critical and anyone who disagreed with the Republican Party line was shunned and dismissively labeled RINO's – "Republicans In Name Only."
Lee Atwater died before Gingrich introduced the new, meaner GOP. But in an interview with me in 1990, Atwater, who Bush named chair of the Republican National Committee after the election, insisted the Republican Party was a "Big Tent" and accused the Democrats of being the Party with the litmus test - especially on abortion.
During a break at a Bush fundraiser for California gubernatorial hopeful Pete Wilson at the Century Plaza Hotel (outside of which AIDS protesters were staging die-ins), Atwater spent more time with me than with other reporters explaining what he meant by "big tent." One effort was outreach to black voters, clearly to overcome the "Willie Horton" ad.
But I was surprised by his answer on the issue of abortion rights - considering the powerful political influence of the Religious Right. Atwater said that while he personally didn't agree with abortion, people who were Pro-Choice were welcome in the party. Similarly, Atwater said sexual orientation was no bar to party membership, either - it was a matter of personal privacy.
Lee Atwater in the Oval Office with President GHW Bush
The Times obit mentions the shift in political strategy, as well:
"As he talked about appealing to black voters, Mr. Atwater also began talking about the importance to baby boom voters of family, friends and community.
It was his attention to his own generation’s attitudes and interests, and his hope that attracting younger voters would help make Republicans the majority party, that led him as chairman of the National Committee to urge his party to move away from a rigid opposition to abortion."
But after Arkansas Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton won in 1992 while celebrating diversity, the meaner Gingrich/House Republicans capitalized on what angry GOP populist Patrick Buchanan called the "culture war" and re-took Congress in 1994. The partisan political grid-lock that ensued at one point shut down the government.
I cite this brief history because I suspect there might be a similar situation now - where the Republican Party can in fact become more "big tent" inclusive - or become enthralled by the Tea Party conservatives, who don't seem particularly cohesive.
Today, there appears to be a greater opportunity for gay participation in the Republican Party. Despite continued outreach, the GOP has a problem bringing in black voters - though that might be changing with the new black middle class. Latinos are actually more conservative as a group and therefore a soft voter target. But after the ugly, racist Atwater-esque political ads for the anti-immigrant Prop 187, an initiative supported by California Gov. Pete Wilson - the GOP lost the trust of the Latino community. That tension has only been aggravated recent by tactics such as Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's "papers please" documents law.
One issue around which black and Latino religious conservatives could agree with the GOP was their vociferous stand against marriage equality and other LGBT rights. Karl Rove and his RNC buddy Ken Mehlman saw that and helped turn out the vote by shaping antigay initiatives around the country in 2004. But let's not forget that Bush's opponent that year, Sen. John Kerry, told lesbian reporter Lisa Keen that he also supported the right of states to pass constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage. (See here for an extended quote from the interview in the context of the 2008 elections). Mehlman came out as gay last August and expressed "regret" for his part in the antigay campaigns of 2004 and 2006.
In 2008, the elections were all about "change-agent" Barack Obama defeating one-time "maverick" John McCain for the presidency. But 2010 was all about the Republicans winning back control of the House, with the help of the loud grassroots Tea Party groups.
Columnist Jonathan Capehart
What went relatively unnoticed in all the hoopla was that self-identified LGBTs voted Republican in larger numbers than in 2008. In his Washington Post column on Nov. 4, the day after the election, Jonathan Capehart speculated whether GOP might mean "Gay Old Party."
"If you want more data that gay men and lesbians are pretty much just like everyone else — worried about the economy, freaked out about the direction of the country and perhaps ticked at the slow pace of change with regard to their civil rights — get a load of this exit poll result.
Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals who self-identified to exit pollsters made up 3 percent of those casting ballots in House races on Tuesday, and 31 percent of them voted Republican. By itself, that number is amazing, especially when you consider that way too many people think being gay and voting Democratic are one in the same. But that percentage is ominous news for a White House viewed with suspicion by many gay men and lesbians, because that’s four percentage points higher than the change election of 2008.
Self-identified gays have been slowly sidling up to the GOP for a while now. In the 2008 presidential race, they made up four percent of the vote and gave 27 percent of their votes to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) against then-Sen. Barack Obama. In the 2006 midterm elections, when the House and Senate flipped to Democratic control, gays made up three percent of the electorate with the Republicans snagging 24 percent of their ballots. And in the 2004 presidential elections, President George W. Bush got 23 percent of the gay vote. They comprised four percent of those polled."
But it's not only the White House or the Democratic Party that's paying attention. Though self-identified LGBTs account for only between three or four percent of the national exit polling, the fact that between 23 percent and 31 percent of that vote goes Republican could mean a margin of difference both electorally and in campaign contributions.
And if the recent inclusion of Log Cabin members and other gay Republicans in RNC matters is a clue - the party leadership is trying to pull a Lee Atwater and shut down debate over social issues and secure those votes from LGBT conservatives.
I asked R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, about this after the DADT repeal was signed. Cooper was among a number of Republicans invited to the signing ceremony on Dec. 18. Also included were Dan Woods, the sterling straight attorney who won the six-year old LCR federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DADT in district court. Also there was Bob Kabel, LCR's first chairman of the board and now the RNC's state party chair for the District of Columbia who Cooper described as "politically a Big Dog Republican." Others were LCR deputy director Christian Berle and former LCR executive director Patrick Guerriero, representing the Gill Foundation.
Casey Pick, Clarke Cooper, Dan Woods, Christian Berle at the signing ceremony Photo courtesy Log Cabin Republicans
Cooper said the gay Republicans were "received warmly, but I don't (US Attorney General) Eric Holder rushed to shake Dan's hand."
It's unclear if anyone approached Holder about the Justice Department's defense of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.
Woods said he was "paying close attention" to the remarks made at the ceremony by Vice President Biden and President Obama "in the hope we might use them in the lawsuit as it continues. Vice president Biden said some things that are going to be very helpful. And the president actually said that the certification process is supposed to move 'swiftly.' He wants them to move swiftly - whatever that means."
Woods said that on Monday, Dec. 13, he spoke with Henry Whitaker, the DOJ attorney handling the appeal of the LRC case in the 9th Circuit. At that time,Woods said:
"they didn't know what their position was going to be yet. They're still having internal discussions about what they're going to do and we'll see. Their brief is due January 24 - which is just about a month from now. I am going to predict that the government is going to try to postpone that and stay the appeal and do all those things now that repeal has passed. I asked him if they did that - whether they would also agree to a ban on discharges. And they would not commit to that. So that's under discussion, I guess - but they're not committing to that and he actually told me that would be unlikely that the government would ever agree to that. So our lawsuit is alive and kicking."
Woods said he would probably call Whitaker sometime this week and say:
"Henry, I was there at the signing. I saw what the Vice President said. I saw what the President said. I saw the President urge people who had been discharged to reenlist. Why are you continuing with this? We ought to be able to work this out."
Woods said about the signing ceremony, "it was great to be part of history. And I appreciate that many people have said that our case made a difference in getting Don't ask, Don't Tell repealed. It was moving."
Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson with LCR's Clarke Cooper - Photo courtsey Log Cabin Republicans
He also said it was much like a "reunion from the trial" with experts such as Professors Aaron Belkin and Nathaniel Frank and servicemember witnesses Alex Nicholson, Mike Almy, and Joseph Roca - plus lawyers with whom Woods collaborated from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "It was great for me to meet some more people working in other contexts to change the law. But overall it was a wonderful day to see this finally happen."
I asked Cooper if he felt the ceremony was in some ways transcendent of politics, given how many people worked together to make repeal happen. He agreed that on a "macro" level, "transcendence is a good descriptive" on a day when emotions ran high with "bon ami" (French for "good friend") and "no acrimony," other than the moment Obama referred to how much was done by the Democrats in the lame duck session.
Cooper is relatively optimistic about LCR's chances for winning over more Republicans to the pro-equality camp next year, especially after the revelations he expects from the DADT review and certification process:
"The statute and all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the repeal - it will turn out that it's a non-issue. And so for the Republicans that were on the fence during the votes, who were worried to vote in favor, will see that there were no negative consequences. It's unfortunate that there were some Republicans we did not get in the House and there were some we did not get in the Senate who were wavering until the last minute. And I would like to think that seeing this implementation succeed will help them further along in becoming more reachable and more approachable on other equality matters like an Employment Non-Discrimination Act. So there is some wind in our sails - so to speak, in the broader community and having this pass does help me build a stronger caucus of pro-equality Republicans within the party."
But Cooper says much of how the GOP behaves will be up to the leadership. He said:
"One of the things the Republican Party has to deal with in the 112th is keeping discipline and on the House side where we have the majority - [incoming Speaker] John Boehner knows that he's going to have to ride herd on that freshman class. But the eight Republicans that voted in favor of repeal - 15 in the House – and remember also we had three abstentions in the Senate so when you look at legislative nuancing, those are three other Republicans that didn't vote against repeal. So that said - primary challengers out there might try to use support of repeal against some of these House members and senators. But we have people that Log Cabin Republicans endorsed who won handily and ran against social conservatives. In New York - Richard Hanna and Nan Hayworth ran against social conservatives and won.
So there is a place for everybody in the party and one of the things that's going to be a challenge for Republican leadership - for the John Boehners, for the Mitch McConnells - is to make sure that the Republicans who are in the pro-equality caucus are able to operate within the party and within the greater GOP caucus without any hindrance.
There are going to be some who are going to be upset by that. But I can tell you - last week I met with the chairman of the Republican Study committee - and that's headed up by a social conservative - Congressman Jordan from Northwestern Ohio - and his sole focus, his priorities are all economic, are all deficit reduction, all balancing the budget. There's nothing that's on his agenda that's social. So I met with a social conservative who talked about nothing other than fiscal policy.
I was in a meeting with other peers - my counterparts from the National Rifle Association, my counterpart from Republicans Abroad, from the Heritage Foundation. It was essentially looking at the priorities for the next Congress and everything that was laid out before us was all economic or fiscally-related. There was nothing on there regarding a social agenda. It very good to know."
Cooper said LCR is recognized as part of the RNC coalitions:
“In fact - in every kind of coalition meeting there is - I'm always at the table and I'm at the table with my peers, my counterparts, not only in the RNC but you know - Pete Sessions, even though he does not have an equality record - he included Log Cabin in every single Young Guns event that occurred during the election cycle this year. And Sen. Cornyn, who, again, has an abysmal equality record - has participated in raising money for the pro-equality candidates we endorsed.
So we are very much part of the party body - we're part of the institution. And so that's good news for gay conservatives; that's good news for fiscal conservatives who are more Libertarian when it comes to social issues.
I know there are people who say we're apologists or deniers - but we're not. We support pro-equality Republicans and we hold those aren't accountable – and we're a necessary part of the party. We're needed and those who are politically savvy enough know that.
And so I know there are times Log Cabin is present or in the room sometimes out of political expediency or pragmatism - but that's OK. I come from a world of Realpolitik. I'm a student of Henry Kissinger - I get it. I'm not so much as getting the kumbaya warm feelings as long as we are participants and we can effect positive change and build an inclusive party - that's fine. I'm not looking for a hug here."
LCR's Cooper salutes President Obama after signing ceremony Photo courtesy the White House
At the end of the signing ceremony, Cooper, an active duty Captain in the Army Reserves, saluted his Commander-in-Chief on the rope line. Cooper remembers the conversation this way:
The president shook my hand and said, 'Congratulations, well done.' And I said, 'Thank you. You said we needed to get votes – we got more than enough.' And he said, 'Yes, you did."
While LGBT Democrats may be loath to give Republicans any credit for repealing DADT - other than Sen. Susan Collins and LCR attorney Dan Woods - it might behoove the LGBT progressive leadership to consider working on some sort of bipartisan agreement to cease and desist on the usual acrimony and seek compromise - setting aside ideological differences in order to focus on LGBT equality for the next few years. Otherwise LGBTs are doomed to another long period in the political wilderness.
Crossposted at LGBT POV