The bizarre history of Log Cabin’s presidential endorsements

By : Chris Johnson OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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ABOVE: Log Cabin Republicans have a history of endorsing and not endorsing Republican candidates. (Photos of H.W. Bush and W. Bush public domain; Washington Blade photos of Romney and Trump by Michael Key)

Perhaps no organization has inspired greater controversy within the LGBT community than the Log Cabin Republicans.

The group gets blamed by other LGBT advocates when GOP administrations attack the community. Meanwhile, straight Republicans are often unwelcoming to the gay Republican group, even hostile.

And controversy arrived again last week, as Log Cabin announced its support for Trump’s re-election in 2020 despite widespread anger over his racist tweets, harsh immigration policies, tariffs, general un-presidential demeanor, and, yes, anti-LGBT policies.

It’s more like white-hot rage. Jaws dropped, fingers wagged, tweets were sent and a former head of the D.C. chapter announced on Facebook he was finished with Log Cabin. How could an LGBT group endorse the same president who announced on Twitter he’d ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity?”

A look at Log Cabin’s endorsement history reveals the organization has been anything but consistent in its presidential endorsement decisions, even with respect to the LGBT rights records of the candidates. The only consistency, in fact, is the organization’s commitment to either endorse the Republican presidential candidate or not endorse him.

Here’s what has happened since Log Cabin began endorsing candidates in 1992:

President George H.W. Bush signs the Hate Crimes Statistics Act on April 23, 1990. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

1992, George H.W. Bush

Endorsement: No

In its first known presidential endorsement decision, Log Cabin declined to endorse George H.W. Bush as he sought re-election in 1992. Bush was at the time the target of gay rights protesters for, like Ronald Reagan, not doing enough to address the raging AIDS epidemic.

The Blade could find no contemporaneous record of Log Cabin’s endorsement decision, but a 2004 Chicago Tribune article about Log Cabin indicates in 1992 the organization withheld its endorsement of Bush “because he did not denounce the anti-gay rhetoric at the GOP national convention in Houston.”

The year 1992 was when Pat Buchanan took the stage at the Republican National Convention and called for a “culture war…for the soul of America.” While the “Lock Her Up” chant became infamous in 2016, the chant during his speech was “Family Rights Forever! Gay Rights Never!”

Among the things Buchanan railed against was “abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools [and] women in combat.” Buchanan mocked the voice of a gay rights advocate, whom he called a “militant leader of the homosexual rights movement,” and said Clinton-Gore represents the most pro-gay ticket in U.S. history. “And so they do,” Buchanan surmised.

Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) (Photo public domain)

1996, Bob Dole

Endorsement: Yes

In perhaps its most unexpected endorsement decision, Log Cabin supported BobDole when he challenged Bill Clinton for the presidency in 1996.

Just the year before in 1995, the Dole campaign returned a $1,000 check from the organization, which was given as a result of Dole’s private commitments on AIDS legislation to Log Cabin chief Rich Tafel.

When a reporter inquired about the donation, the campaign gave the money back and informed her Dole was in “100 percent disagreement” with Log Cabin.

Later, under criticism, Dole expressed regret over giving the money back. “I think if they’d have consulted me, we wouldn’t have done that, wouldn’t have returned it,” Dole said.

After the flip-flop, Tafel met again with the Dole campaign, making demands about not tolerating anti-gay rhetoric at the Republican National Convention. Consequently, no such Buchanan-esque language was seen at the 1996 convention.

Soon after the agreement, Log Cabin members voted to support Dole at its annual convention in San Diego, marking the first time the group supported a presidential nominee.

“Our endorsement reflects both an acknowledgement that the Dole-Kemp ticket has made historic overtures in our direction and it provides us the opportunity to work with this campaign on the issues we care about,” Tafel said at the time.

President George W. Bush (Photo public domain)

2000, George W. Bush

Endorsement: Yes

Given a second opportunity to endorse a Bush, Log Cabin decided to throw its support behind George W. Bush in the 2000 election against Al Gore.

According to Log Cabin’s website, the organization initially supported “maverick” John McCain in his challenge to Bush for the Republican nomination. After the primary, Bush reportedly refused to meet with Log Cabin.

Things changed, however, after Bush secured the GOP nod. A group of gay Republicans known as the “Austin 12” met with the candidate at this campaign headquarters. After the conversation, Bush emerged and said he was a “better man” for it. That meeting seemed to indicate a new day had arrived and formed the basis of Log Cabin’s endorsement.

The “Austin 12,” led by Charles Francis, included AIDS advocate Carl Schmid, David Catania, Scott Evertz, former Rep. Steve Gunderson and Rebecca Maestri.

They asked for a commitment to fight HIV/AIDS and having an openly gay speaker at the Republican National Convention. Bush came through with both requests, launching PEPFAR to fight the international AIDS epidemic and allowing Rep. Jim Kolbe to speak at the convention. But then, things changed yet again.

President George W. Bush has found newfound support in the Trump administration. (White House photo by Eric Draper)

2004, George W. Bush

Endorsement: Hell no

Faced with an endless quagmire dragging down the U.S. military following his invasion of Iraq, Bush resorted to an age-old scapegoat to stoke fears to help him win re-election: Gays.

Drawing on (unfounded) fears after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the Bay State in 2003, Bush called for passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment and made it a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

Bush, in fact, called for a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage nationwide in his 2004 State of the Union address.

“Activist judges…have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives,” Bush said. “On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

Support for the Federal Marriage Amendment was a bridge too far for Log Cabin, whose board voted 22-2 against endorsing Bush for re-election.

“Certain moments in history require that a belief in fairness and equality not be sacrificed in the name of partisan politics; this is one of those moments,” Log Cabin chief Patrick Guerriero said. “The national board’s vote empowers Log Cabin to maintain its integrity while furthering our goal of building a more inclusive Republican Party.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) leaves a complicated legacy on LGBT rights upon his death. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

2008, John McCain

Endorsement: Yes

With McCain now having a bite at the apple for the Republican presidential nomination, Log Cabin had the choice of a new candidate to endorse for president.

McCain was indeed different. The Arizona Republican bucked his party and refused to support the Federal Marriage Amendment on the U.S. Senate floor.

But McCain’s stated reason for opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment was federalism grounds. (In 2006, McCain would take the anti-gay position and endorse a state constitutional amendment in Arizona when it came before voters.)

“The legal definition of marriage has always been left to the states to decide, in accordance with the prevailing standards of their neighborhoods and communities,” McCain said. “Certainly, that view has prevailed for many years in my party where we adhere to a rather stricter federalism than has always been the case in the prevailing views among our friends in the Democratic Party.”

Log Cabin’s board endorsed McCain by a 12-2 vote after the candidate met with the LGBT group.

Patrick Sammon, then-president of Log Cabin, said the candidate “showed courage by bucking his own party leadership and the president” on the Federal Marriage Amendment.

“We have honest disagreements with Sen. McCain on a number of gay rights issues, Log Cabin will continue our conversation with him and other Republican leaders about issues affecting gay and lesbian Americans,” Sammon said.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (center) with Log Cabin’s R. Clarke Cooper (left) and former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (photo courtesy Log Cabin)

2012, Mitt Romney

Endorsement: Yes

In 2012, the Republican Party fielded former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to challenge Barack Obama in his bid for re-election.

The choice presented a dilemma for Log Cabin. Romney was governor of Massachusetts when the state court legalized same-sex marriage and fought tooth-and-nail against the ruling. Like Bush, Romney called for a Federal Marriage Amendment to ban gay nuptials.

R. Clarke Cooper, then-president of Log Cabin, and former Rep. Jim Kolbe met with Romney at a Virginia farmhouse for a brief five-minute meeting. The two gay Republicans appeared to have some vague commitment from Romney on employment non-discrimination protections, although nothing was firm.

That was good enough for Log Cabin, whose board endorsed Romney in a 14-1 vote.

“Despite our disagreement with Gov. Romney on the issue of marriage, on balance it is clear that in today’s economic climate, concern for the future of our country must be the highest priority,” Cooper said. “We are Republicans, and we agree with Gov. Romney’s vision for America in which success is a virtue, equal opportunity is ensured, and leaders recognize that it is the American people, not government, that build our nation and fuel its prosperity.”

President-elect Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

2016, Donald Trump

Endorsement: No

In 2016, political pundits saw Trump waving an upside-down rainbow Pride flag at a Colorado rally and concluded he was the most pro-gay Republican candidate in history.

In some respects, that’s right. Trump had in his private capacity as a businessperson attended a same-sex wedding and donated to HIV/AIDS groups. In his 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting pledged to “protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

But calling him a pro-gay candidate ignores his absence of pro-LGBT policy positions. Moreover, Trump’s campaign was based on animus toward minority groups — whether it be Muslims or immigrants.

Through an organizational statement, Log Cabin concluded Trump was “perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party,” but that wasn’t enough and withheld its endorsement.

“Log Cabin Republicans have long emphasized that we are not a single-issue organization, nor are our members single-issue voters,” the statement said. “Even if we were, rhetoric alone regarding LGBT issues does not equate to doctrine.”

What it boils down to is Trump — unlike McCain or Romney — refused to meet with Log Cabin, which was a criterion for the organization’s support. Still, Log Cabin did express concern with Trump’s policy on LGBT issues.

“As Mr. Trump spoke positively about the LGBT community in the United States, he concurrently surrounded himself with senior advisors with a record of opposing LGBT equality and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called ‘First Amendment Defense Act’ that Log Cabin Republicans opposes.”

President Donald Trump(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

2020, Donald Trump

Endorsement: Yes

Trump quickly built a reputation as an anti-LGBT president. His administration implemented a transgender military ban, took actions undermining LGBT rights in the name of “religious freedom” and excluded LGBT rights from the enforcement of federal civil rights laws like Title VII and Title IX.

At the same time, a new class of gay conservatives has emerged that, frankly, just doesn’t care about those issues. What’s more, they point to his appointment of Richard Grenell as U.S. ambassador of Germany as evidence that Trump is pro-gay. Grenell is supposedly spearheading a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality, although there’s little evidence as yet of anything behind that plan.

On HIV/AIDS, the Trump administration has unveiled an ambitious plan to beat the HIV epidemic by 2030 by zeroing in on areas of new infections and hammering them with prevention and treatment tools.

As it turns out, that’s enough for an endorsement from Log Cabin. Board leaders Robert Kabel and Jill Homan announced their organization’s support for Trump’s re-election in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“This is the party that Trump has helped make possible by moving past the culture wars that dominated the 1990s and early 2000s, in particular by removing gay rights as a wedge issue from the old Republican playbook,” Kabel and Homan wrote.

The endorsement was a striking departure from Log Cabin practice in many respects: Trump has never met with Log Cabin, the endorsement decision usually comes after the convention and executive director Jerri Ann Henry’s name is nowhere on the op-ed.

But if anything is revealed from reviewing Log Cabin’s history, it’s that departing from consistent practices is a constant in endorsement decisions.

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