What's GOProud Doing in New Hampshire?
January 09 2012 4:27 PM ET
MANCHESTER, N.H. — To be clear, GOProud has not yet made an official GOP presidential candidate endorsement. The gay Republican group intends to do so, just not until after the field narrows.
But the group’s most visible representatives, executive director Jimmy LaSalvia and Christopher Barron, now a “chief strategist” who stepped down as chairman following a Twitter imbroglio over the group’s treatment of a Rick Perry staffer last month, both wore Mitt Romney buttons and stickers Monday morning during a GOProud breakfast event at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, epicenter for the state primary race.
If the event over coffee and bagels was not meant to officially coalesce around a candidate (Barron until recently was gung ho for Herman Cain), it did offer a venue for elevator pitches by LaSalvia and Barron on the group’s relevance in 2012 as well as ample support for Romney, who said Sunday that he doesn’t discriminate against gays, but whose campaign quickly disavowed a 2002 gay pride parade flier bearing his name. On Monday morning, the Obama campaign pounced. “What on that flier does Mitt Romney disagree with?” spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. “Does he not believe all Americans should have equal rights? Who is he trying to pander to now?”
Barron insists the pandering in New Hampshire has come from another contender: Rick Santorum, who has shape-shifted from social archconservative in Iowa to an “equality”-minded man in New Hampshire, despite his epic body of antigay rhetoric — positions he will almost certainly brandish in full effect as the campaign moves on to South Carolina’s primaries next week.
“Santorum’s record on [gay rights] has been abundantly clear,” says Barron, who declines to even entertain the scenario of the former Pennsylvania senator winning the nomination, much less whether his group would offer an endorsement. “Asking whether or not I would support Rick Santorum as the nominee is like asking me whether I support Kim Kardashian if she were the nominee. It’s not going to happen," he says. "This is a vanity campaign. And if he wants to run a vanity campaign, he’s going to be treated like a vanity candidate.” Nevertheless, a Santorum surrogate did stop by the GOProud coffee klatch, as did representatives of Ron Paul’s and Mitt Romney’s campaigns, according to LaSalvia.
LaSalvia’s pitch for Romney is symbolic of the group's insistence that Obama's no maverick on LGBT rights and that his policies have harmed LGBT people far more than his support on some issues has helped them. “He offers a better plan,” LaSalvia says of Romney, “a better plan on retirement security, on national security, on taxes, on reining in the size and scope of government. I think gay people understand the crisis that the country is in, they’ve seen that Barack Obama can’t handle it. Romney’s not there on same-sex civil marriage, but neither is President Obama.”
The preponderance of marriage questions has vexed many campaigns, the GOProud reps say, and they’re not entirely happy about it either. The bulk of questions on marriage equality have been of the “gotcha” variety, Barron asserts. “We’ve allowed the discussion of gay issues to be pigeonholed, that the left has decided what are ‘gay’ issues, and we’re supposed to act like Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets. For people to say that GOProud isn’t talking about gay issues: bullshit. We are talking about how gay issues impact people, and quite honestly, how issues impact gay couples differently from straight couples.”
The group saw an abrupt shake-up in its organizational chart after incendiary tweets were leveled against Tony Fabrizio, a senior Rick Perry campaign strategist who is gay, and whom they slammed as hypocritical for working on a campaign that ran antigay television advertising. The “Strong” ad in Iowa claimed it was unfair that gay people can now serve openly in the military but Christians must supposedly hide their beliefs.
Of GOProud’s loss of support from Andrew Breitbart, who left GOProud's advisory board over the Fabrizio tweets he slammed as “extreme and punitive,” Barron says, “Andrew made a decision that he had to make. And we respectfully disagree. And that’s all we have to say. He does great work for the conservative movement, and we’re glad to continue to count him as a friend.”
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