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Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever


The gay and lesbian organization Log Cabin Republicans has decided to sit out the Republican primary by not endorsing a candidate. Why aren't they backing Rudy Giuliani, the most pro-gay Republican White House contender in history?

The mission of Log Cabin Republicans, according to the group's website, is "to make the Republican Party more inclusive, particularly on gay and lesbian issues." The group recognizes -- correctly -- that "equality will be impossible to achieve without Republican votes." Democrats are largely on board with gay rights issues; it's conservatives who need convincing. It is for this reason that Log Cabin, with its handful of staffers and a mere 20,000 members, is one of the most important gay political organizations in the country.

Yet Log Cabin is sitting out what is perhaps the most important presidential primary for gay voters in political history. Running for the 2008 Republican nomination is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the ideal Log Cabin Republican candidate. Indeed, Log Cabin endorsed him in his previous runs for mayor and U.S. Senate, and he spoke at the organization's national convention in 1999. While it's true that since becoming a major presidential contender Giuliani has backtracked on his previous support for civil unions (his campaign claims that the New Hampshire legislature's passage of a civil unions law was overreaching because it recognizes same-sex unions from other states), Giuliani still says he supports domestic partnerships that ensure the same legal rights for gay couples. Add his regular participation in New York City's gay pride parades, his appointments of openly gay people to city offices, and his having lived with a gay couple after his wife kicked him out of the house -- plus a dearth of gay-supportive Republican rivals -- and you have a no-brainer of a Log Cabin endorsement.

But, alas, Log Cabin is sitting this one out, at least until the general election. In a recent interview with Mother Jones, Log Cabin's grassroots outreach director said, "We will probably not endorse anyone in the primary." The recent endorsement of Giuliani by televangelist Pat Robertson, who has a record of homophobia rivaling that of any major American public figure, may dissuade socially moderate Republicans from supporting Giuliani. But sitting this GOP primary out is a grave mistake for Log Cabin, as it dilutes gay political power right when it is most necessary to assert it.

The election of Giuliani will fundamentally alter the Republican Party -- for the better. The mere fact that he is the Republican front-runner -- with his pro-gay, pro-choice record -- astounds political pundits and speaks to the primacy of issues such as terrorism and the economy over the once-dreaded "homosexual agenda." Giuliani's popularity speaks to the waning influence of the religious right, a monumental political force since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Social conservative leaders are scared that a Giuliani candidacy will end their sway with GOP leaders, which is why a powerful group of them -- including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, and direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie -- recently announced that if the party does not nominate someone who is pro-life, they will lead social conservatives to vote for "a minor-party candidate." This was an implicit threat to Republicans that if they go ahead and nominate Giuliani, the GOP can expect to lose a significant chunk of conservative support through voter abstention or even a conservative third-party candidacy.

The selection of Giuliani as the party's nominee would send the message that the tried and true practice of denigrating gays for political advantage has been rejected once and for all (this message would carry even greater emphasis if Giuliani is elected president). A Giuliani candidacy will mark the triumph of the party's social moderates over its conservatives, and the attenuation of Republican gay bashing. As The Advocate's own Kerry Eleveld observed in a recent issue, "The Christian right and Log Cabin find themselves on opposite sides of the same struggle, fighting for the future of a party that could either perpetuate the Bush-Rove culture war or unite over core values of fiscal responsibility, small government, and national defense."

Log Cabin should not worry that its endorsement of Giuliani will hurt his chances in the primary, nor should Republicans considering whether to vote for him place any stock in Dobson's shot across the bow. The religious right wants political power and, ultimately, loathes Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. They will not be so stupid as to support a third-party candidate who will draw conservative support away from Giuliani in the general election, just as Ralph Nader doomed Al Gore's candidacy by attracting left-wing voters in 2000. Dobson is, for lack of a better word, bluffing, attempting to scare Republicans into bowing to his demands. Socially tolerant GOP voters should not cave to his empty threats.

What this fight really boils down to is a war between social conservatives and social moderates within the Republican Party, and it is a fight that gays of all political stripes have a stake in winning. If Giuliani is the Republican nominee, gays will not be an issue in the 2008 general election, nor is it likely that they ever will be again. Homosexuality -- which proved a wedge issue in so many states during the 2004 election -- will thankfully become a moot issue. The "family values" crowd has already staked out their territory in this struggle, urging Republicans to support anyone but Giuliani, and they have issued petulant threats to bolt the party if he becomes the nominee. Where are the socially tolerant Republicans -- especially the gay ones -- to meet this challenge in support of their preferred candidate? Why aren't they flexing their own political muscle? They now have a prime opportunity to select the first objectively pro-gay Republican presidential candidate in history. This is no small thing. Instead of attacking Mitt Romney -- Log Cabin's most visible role in the primary to date -- the organization should do something productive.

The primary season is a regular opportunity for the wide array of interest groups occupying the GOP's vaunted "big tent" to duke it out and select the candidate who best represents their values. Pat Robertson has already begun whispering in Giuliani's ear. Instead of backing down from this fight, Log Cabin should be whispering in the other.

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