In a front-page article for the Washington Blade, Chris Johnson asked whether Log Cabin Republicans would endorse Mitt Romney for president. As of this writing, Log Cabin hasn’t endorsed Romney. Representing more than one million gay and lesbian Republicans, Log Cabin will endorse (or not) after reaching a consensus of the national board of directors, the national staff and chapter leaders.
We local chapters endorse in local rather than national races. That said, as individual members of Log Cabin, we’ll discuss whether Log Cabin should endorse Romney. Johnson overlooked the calculus behind a presidential endorsement.
Log Cabin members differ with the Republican Party on some issues, particularly marriage equality. We also, however, strongly disagree with liberals, particularly on fiscal matters and foreign policy – thus we are Republicans, despite some LGBT censure. Gay rights are important to us, but the good of our nation requires individuals to consider many issues when voting. For Log Cabin, with its unique role in both the Republican Party and the LGBT community, other factors complicate an endorsement.
Think of endorsements as chess moves: should Log Cabin try the neutrality gambit or the endorsement strategy? As in chess, we need to anticipate the moves of other pieces on the board: the Romney campaign, LGBT Americans, the press corps, the Religious Right, etc. With that in mind, let’s examine the implications of two moves, neutrality or endorsement. (Despite the fevered dreams of some activists, Log Cabin won’t endorse the Democrat.)
Neutrality would send the message that Romney’s positions — the NOM pledge, primarily — are so far against Log Cabin’s mission that we believe it is in the best interest of both gays and Republicans not to offer our formal support. Log Cabin advocates for a stronger, more inclusive GOP based on the idea that anti-gay politics are destructive to our party and our country. Neutrality is a position not taken lightly, but is possible.
The gay case against Romney parallels the conservative case against him. Conservatives have long been leery of Romney’s ideological flexibility. In 1994, Romney claimed to be a better advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy; he was a socially moderate candidate for governor in 2002. When running for office in Massachusetts, pro-gay positions made sense. When they became problematic, Romney became a critic of gay rights. Log Cabin is well aware of his devolution.
Ironically, Romney’s journey partially tracks Barack Obama’s shifting stances on marriage. As a state senator in 1996, Barack Obama was on record in favor of marriage equality, but as president he first opposed it, and then he waited until after anti-marriage equality amendments passed before supporting it again. It might be that Republicans, let alone gay people, would be better served without Romney’s unpredictable principles in the White House — indeed, many Republicans voted for Santorum for that reason. Further, if Romney fails to earn the Log Cabin endorsement and loses, it will be a warning to future hard right conservatives: being anti-gay loses.
Johnson and others seemed to suggest that the LGBT community would see a rejection of Romney as an act that would earn Log Cabin respect. Given the disdain that continues to be heaped on gay conservatives after the withheld Bush endorsement in 2004, we question whether any respect would be forthcoming.
Neutrality’s danger, which liberal gays overlook, is that if Romney becomes president without any major gay organization’s backing, then Log Cabin and the gay community have checkmated themselves. After the group’s neutrality in 2004, Log Cabin’s reputation within the GOP suffered, and gay people had no official line of communication with the White House. We might have headed off some anti-gay policies if the Bush administration had been inclined to listen to gay voices. Maintaining those lines of communication is central to Log Cabin’s work for our community, and the endorsement decision is part of that process.
Should the election of 2012 be close, the Log Cabin endorsement will matter. Knowing that his presidency depended in part on gay voters and independents who could be swayed with a Log Cabin endorsement, Romney and his staff will be more likely to continue conversations with Log Cabin. But they will listen only if Log Cabin endorsed. Elephants will never forget which side Log Cabin chooses.
There’s precedent for endorsing a candidate whose record is mixed. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Obama’s reelection long before he grudgingly endorsed gay marriage (safely after North Carolina’s ghastly Amendment One passed), despite his anemic effort on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, and notwithstanding a broken promise on employment nondiscrimination for federal contractors. Log Cabin isn’t going follow HRC’s lead and decide too soon; we prefer to see what Mitt Romney will offer. Log Cabin is trying to anticipate moves in a complicated game.
Ultimately, the organization will make the decision we feel best represents the interests of the LGBT Americans who often vote conservative. This includes people like Richard Grenell, who recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Like many voters, I rarely agree with a candidate’s every position. I can support Mr. Romney for president but not agree with all of his stated policies. I can be proud of President Obama’s personal support for gay marriage and still take exception to his dismal national-security and economic records.” Grenell has made his decision, while other Log Cabin Republicans or the national organization may choose differently.
To endorse or stay neutral? Either could be a path to victory for gay conservatives and independents this November.