Back in the day (and I’m talking back), when I worked on Capitol Hill, I met my very first boyfriend. Kurt was from Paducah, Ky., and worked for a fairly moderate Republican at the time, a senator named Mitch McConnell.
We were both in the closet, and I would pick Kurt up in my car at discrete locations. We never really spoke about politics, because it really didn’t matter. The only thing I vaguely recall him telling me about McConnell was that they put lipstick on him for TV appearances since his mouth is like a knife slash.
And, one of my best drinking buddies during that period, worked — um, let’s say toiled for then-Rep. Rick Santorum. I only knew that Santorum was an absolute jerk because I sat next to him at a dinner on the Hill one night and witnessed his rude and obnoxious behavior. He was childishly upset about getting the right dinner rolls. But again, with Will, there was never any talk about politics. We just had a good time over lots and lots of beers.
That’s the way it was then in Congress. You had friends across party lines, and anyone who was virulently political was usually also friendless.
Sarah Longwell also worked for Rick Santorum back in the in mid 1990s, going on a tour with Senator Santorum to help promote his book, It Takes a Family. She was coming out as a lesbian at the time and eventually quit Santorum, who she considered “the most visibly antigay politician in the country.”
Who is Sarah Longwell? Well, she’s a long-time, influential Republican operative, but more urgently, she is the founder of Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), and more defiantly a former chairwoman of the board for the Log Cabin Republicans, with whom she parted ways with in the summer of 2019.
I think we can all draw our obvious conclusions as to why Longwell is pushing for the election of Joe Biden among disenfranchised and fed up Republicans, and all the reasons that might account for her exit from the LCR. You might say that she is one of only a handful of sensible, prominent Republicans who haven’t blindly followed the cult of a demonic president.
When I set out to speak with Longwell, I wasn’t so much interested in the past, i.e. what caused her to become so disillusioned with the party and the organization. How many times do we need to hear about the disaster of Donald Trump? But rather, what might happen to the Republican party, and to the Log Cabin Republicans, if Trump loses — or more ominously wins?
First, I began with a slip of the tongue, asking Sarah how “’Republican Voters for Trump’ was Going?” “Don’t you mean against Trump?” Sarah laughed. I had to put her on hold while I washed my mouth out with soap, before I let her answer the question at hand.
“We have over 700 testimonials from Republican voters that we’ve done and have cut dozens and dozens of them into ads that test very well with focus groups. The RVAT campaign is steeped in a ton of research that I’ve done over the last three years about how best to reach reluctant Trump voters. I knew there were a lot of them, and we had to move them, not just to reject Trump, but to take the next step to vote for Joe Biden.”
Longwell said that most Republicans against Trump like Biden, and after three years of lies and scares, have had enough of the president. “Through voters’ focus groups and polling, we found that most people detest the tribal nature of politics. Thus, our charge was how to build a new tribe of Republicans who are unwilling to vote for Trump and create a home for them so they have a sense of community. We created a space for unhappy Republicans to tell their stories to encourage, or some cases plead, other people, not to vote for Trump in 2020.”
Great, so what happens to these voters, and the Republican party, if Trump wins? “Great question,” sighed Longwell. “Obviously, that would be a worst-case scenario. I think there is something of a political realignment starting, but if Trump wins, he will have an enormous influence on what the party looks like going forward. I think most of these voters who are against him leave the Trump party, especially women and suburban voters.”
After that, according to Longwell, things will become glaringly dysfunctional for our democracy if Trump wins. “He could conceivably lose the popular vote by one of the widest margins in history but have won enough electoral college votes to narrowly win. It sets up a dangerous scenario where people start to ask fundamental questions about how well our representative democracy is actually representing people. That is someplace this country has never been before, and Trump has done a lot to accelerate questioning the legitimacy of the way our democracy works.”
Now if Trump loses, obviously the preferable outcome, what happens to the GOP? “If he loses resoundingly, then I think the only way ahead for the party is if they plan a future in which they have a responsible governing coalition,” Longwell guessed. “The party will be in the wilderness for a little while trying figure out who they are, and how they become a bigger tent with a broader coalition. Only when the current Republican structure is changed, will the GOP have the incentive to move away from Donald Trump. But even there, it’s not a given that will happen.”
Frighteningly, Longwell speculated that Republicans could find themselves still being a party of “no” and grievances, even if Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20, 2021. “Donald Trump is more interested in having control over the Republican party than he is having control over the country,” explained Longwell. “He’s liable to start his own news channel and do anything else he can do to retain dominance over the party’s narrative. And it will be really hard to wrest control from him, and the only way that happens is if Republicans see no path back to power as long as he continues to assert that influence.”
What sort of influence would the Log Cabin Republicans have if Trump wins re-election? Would they become an almost non-existent entity in a party where their voice is essentially ignored? “Honestly, since I resigned from the board, I have no idea what they’re up to or thinking about,” Longwell said dismissively.
“Would you go back?” I asked.
There was a long pause from Longwell before she began to answer the question. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it for one second. I’m more focused on the country instead of the party at this point in my life. But a country with a center-right Republican party won’t get built with Trump and his influence. At this point, my focus is not on institutional Republican organizations like Log Cabin.”
“It seems you’re pretty reluctant to talk about the organization?” I pressed Longwell.
“Here’s what I’ll say. I loved my time there. I learned a lot and met some wonderful people. I was with the organization for 10 years and ended as the first woman as national board chair. I always saw real potential with the organization’s work within the party for change, and to advance issues and causes for our community, and I thought that was really important.
“The bottom line is that I disagree with Log Cabin Republicans, and any other Republicans, who support Trump.
“There’s an important role for Log Cabin, and their role has changed so much in the last 3 ½ years, and I honestly am looking at the urgency of taking care of America first, and getting rid of Trump and putting our precious country and democracy back on track. That should be the most immediate priority for all of us, gay or straight,” Longwell said.