Governor Bush and Log Cabin – Where We Go From Here
A Memo from Rich Tafel to Log Cabin Membership
On March 24, Ari Fleischer, spokesman for Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign, told the Wall Street Journal that "Governor Bush would not meet with Log Cabin Republicans." This contradicted the comments made the day before by Bush consultant Ralph Reed on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" who said that Bush had said he would meet with Log Cabin Republicans, and in fact a meeting had been "pending" as far back as November. Fleischer's comments also contradict the comments on March 7 of Bush communications director Karen Hughes, who said Bush's comments back on November 21, where Bush said he would "probably not" meet with Log Cabin Republicans were "misinterpreted" by the media. Hughes said she was also "clarifying" Bush's comments to the San Francisco Chronicle on March 6, in an interview where he said "yes, I would consider meeting with them."
Confused? Hold on.
If you think the question of whether Bush would meet with Log Cabin Republicans is confusing, just try to follow the different lines of reasoning for not holding the meeting. On November 21, Bush told Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would "probably not" meet with Log Cabin Republicans "because it creates a huge political scene. I mean, this is all – I am someone who is a uniter, not a divider. I don't believe in group thought, pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is create kind of a huge political, you know, nightmare for people." [Later that week, Bush spoke before the Republican Jewish Coalition.]
On December 16, on CNN's "Larry King Live," Bush elaborated on his previous comments: "They asked me whether or not I'd meet with them, I said, probably not, because I didn't want to create a ruckus." On January 16, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan elaborated further to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Bush "didn't see the point of meeting with the group because he disagrees with its positions."
In February, at the CNN candidate debate in South Carolina, Bush explained that he spoke at Bob Jones University because "it is important to bring my message to people, even those I don't agree with." Moderator Larry King then asked Bush why he said in November that he wouldn't meet with Log Cabin Republicans, and Bush responded that he'd "understood that they'd already made a commitment to Senator McCain."
On March 8, Bush said on NBC's "Today" that he'd always been planning on meeting with Log Cabin members, just not their leadership who supported John McCain, adding that he'd had Log Cabin Republican supporters all along. The evening before the interview, Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes claimed that Bush's original comments on the November 21 "Meet the Press" were misinterpreted by the media, as they meant to express that Bush wouldn't meet with Log Cabin Republicans because they were giving money to John McCain, (which itself is contradicted by Federal Election Commission reports that show the first contributions by Log Cabin members to McCain were made on December 17 – almost one month after the comments on "Meet the Press" which, as reported, mentioned nothing about McCain). On his March 23 appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" Bush consultant Ralph Reed explained that Bush turned away from Log Cabin Republicans in November because its leaders "were holding a fundraiser for one of Governor Bush's primary opponents at the same time a meeting was pending."
Which brings us to Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's March 24 comments that Bush would not meet with Log Cabin Republicans because its "leaders backed McCain," adding that Bush "may meet with a group of Republicans who support him and happen to be gay."
Tracing over all we can know on Governor Bush's record on gay issues makes for more confusion. In an interview with Rick Berke of the New York Times, published April 9, 1999, Bush was asked about the controversy involving James C. Hormel, President Clinton's openly gay ambassadorial nominee whose confirmation was being held up by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R). Bush said he would not rule out appointing and nominating openly gay people to his administration "as long as they do a good job." Then on September 24, Bush met with the Madison Project, a group of social conservative activists, and according to columnist Cal Thomas and Scripps-Howard News Service, both of which interviewed participants (Virginia activist Michael Farris and former U.S. Senator William Armstrong of Colorado), Bush said he would never "knowingly" appoint an openly gay person, but if an appointee was "discovered" to be gay, Bush would not fire them. When asked to clarify these contradictory statements, his campaign was quoted as saying Bush would not know if a person was openly gay because he "would never ask the question." Then, the Dallas Morning News quoted Farris on October 22 as saying Bush pledged to not appoint "openly homosexual gay rights advocates," and when asked in the article if Bush would rule out appointing "openly homosexual gay rights advocates," Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker replied: "I think so."
Bush and his campaign aides have told reporters that he has gay supporters, but reiterate that he doesn't know the sexual orientation of any of his supporters. Bush consultant Ralph Reed also said on the March 23 "Hardball" that the campaign has "prominent gay supporters" but declined to name them. Ari Fleischer has now divided out "Republicans who support Bush who happen to be gay" from gay Republicans "who backed McCain," while the Bush campaign simultaneously stresses that uniting the GOP requires bringing in Republican primary voters who backed McCain.
According to the June 1999 issue of The Advocate, Bush said he would veto any attempt by the Texas legislature to repeal an antiquated state law that criminalizes private homosexual activity, calling it "a symbolic gesture of traditional values." Like all the GOP candidates for president in 2000, Bush opposes legislation to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, state and federal hate crime laws that include "sexual orientation," benefits for same-sex partners and legalizing same-sex marriage.
So what should all this tell us about George W. Bush? His handling of the Log Cabin issue has illuminated many of the flaws in his campaign, which may have an impact on our party's chances in November. Bush speaks of McCain supporters coming under his banner because they wouldn't support Gore, not because he reaches out to them. Among gay Republicans, his campaign demands loyalty before "considering" a meeting despite the chronology of its behavior. That's no way to win converts, which Bush needs to do for the sake of the GOP's chances at winning elections.
It has shown that there is a disconnect between his campaign rhetoric and personal reality. Bush, far from being a uniter who is compassionate, has actually played upon divisions to win the nomination, and now shows little desire to heal them. A candidate who cannot unite the Republican Party won't win this election.
It has shown that Bush is out of touch with the centrist voters. Beyond insulting McCain supporters, Bush and his campaign team seem overly reluctant to connect with the mainstream of America on some important issues. For example, Bush opposes hiring openly gay people, while 77% of Americans are opposed to discrimination against openly gay people. While equal treatment for openly gay Americans was once perceived to be a far left issue, today it is firmly at the center of American belief. And the Bush campaign's frustrating refusal to grasp that raises worries about other issues down the road.
Bush has demonstrated that issues such as discrimination are simply media strategies, not policy concerns. By his own original admission, his concern about a Log Cabin meeting was never about seeking common ground on policy despite differences. Instead, for the Bush campaign, a Log Cabin meeting was always a question of coming up with the best public excuse for avoiding any serious engagement on issues [termed a "huge political nightmare for people"]. The goal has been to claim that Bush is not intolerant without having to even engage a gay Republican organization which is working to elect such people as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York and Congressman Tom Campbell of California to the U.S. Senate, and will endorse and campaign for over 30 Republican congressional candidates in 2000.
In the end, expect the Bush campaign to stage a meeting with "Republicans who happen to be gay" as a means to end further press questions on the topic, rather than making a serious effort at uniting the Republican Party and addressing substantive questions on policy that concern millions of gay voters across the country – one-third of whom are Republican. Such an event will depend on Bush's ability to identify gays who for whatever personal reasons have already pledged their support to Bush despite his hard turn to the right in South Carolina.
The inability of Bush to meet with the leadership of gays in the GOP who have spent this decade and beyond supporting Republican candidates in the toughest situations, sends a troubling message to a party that wants to hold its majorities in Congress.
Log Cabin Republicans supports free markets, less government, individual responsibility and individual rights for all Americans, including gay Americans. Paradoxically, we find ourselves more aligned to those crucial swing voters at the political center than Governor Bush today. Moderate Republican and independent swing voters share our socially inclusive and fiscally conservative values, and they too find themselves more often in the position of having to constantly explain why they decide to support Republicans in election campaigns. Among these voters, the latest polls show Governor Bush steadily losing ground throughout the campaign.
It may have been a simple meeting to talk about where we agreed and where we didn't, and it wouldn't have gotten much notice, certainly nothing like the attention brought to refusing to do it. But Log Cabin Republicans may have been the canary in the coal mine. The Bush campaign's inability to deal with the simplest of meetings with a staunchly Republican organization does not bode well for the next several months.
But in spite of this, the Republican cause is not beholden to any single candidate. Log Cabin Republicans will not compromise its integrity as an organization in response to the Bush campaign's actions and statements. We will continue moving forward with our mission, working closely with our elected allies in Congress and around the country, to build an inclusive Republican Party that wins elections, a Party that is in touch with the mainstream of this country, and a Party that respects and reaches out to all Americans, including gay Americans.