Mitt Romney swept a series of GOP presidential primaries this week as news surfaced that Newt Gingrich will suspend his campaign on Tuesday.
With Romney poised to wrap up the Republican nomination — and ready to pivot to the general election contest — his campaign announced the appointment of a gay man, Richard Grenell, to serve as national security and foreign policy spokesman.
The developments this week raise questions about whether the Log Cabin Republicans will endorse Romney for president, despite his promise to pursue a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage, among other anti-gay positions he’s articulated during the primary season.
The debate over whether to endorse Romney could prove thorny for Log Cabin. On one hand, the organization is likely to feel pressure from its Republican base to throw its support behind the party’s standard-bearer in the general election. On the other, Romney has backed anti-gay positions during the primary season, including support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country and a pledge to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Christian Berle, Log Cabin’s deputy executive director, said the board will make the endorsement decision in advance of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., this August.
“The endorsement of any candidate is something Log Cabin Republicans takes very seriously, particularly when it comes to a presidential nominee,” Berle said. “Staff and the board of directors will take the next several months to review Gov. Romney’s record and his vision for leading the country. Log Cabin Republicans will maintain its battle focus on building a stronger, more inclusive GOP.”
If history is any guide, then Log Cabin may withhold support for Romney because of his support for the federal amendment. Log Cabin endorsed George W. Bush in 2000. But in 2004, the group created a national stir when it withheld its endorsement of Bush’s re-election due to the president’s support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In a 22-2 vote, the Log Cabin board decided to withhold the endorsement.
Log Cabin’s then-president Patrick Guerriero explained the decision not to endorse Bush in an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times.
“This year, despite our loyalty to the party of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, we have decided, after significant discussion, to withhold our endorsement of President Bush,” Guerriero wrote. “It was a difficult choice, but our integrity requires it, and the Republican Party’s future will be stronger because of it.”
Although other concerns were cited, the primary reason for withholding support for Bush was his call for Congress to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment to send to the states for ratification.
“The constitutional amendment would not only ban gay marriage, it would also jeopardize civil unions and domestic partnerships,” Guerriero said. ”The president’s support of an unnecessary and discriminatory constitutional amendment ignores the party’s belief in state autonomy and disregards the nation’s reliance on federalism. Using the Constitution as a campaign tool weakens our nation’s founding document and erodes our party’s proud tradition of equality and liberty.”
In many ways, Romney’s views mirror those of Bush in 2004. Romney signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage to back a Federal Marriage Amendment, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and establish a commission on “religious liberty” to investigate the alleged harassment of same-sex marriage opponents. NOM has endorsed Romney, whose Free & Strong America political action committee donated $10,000 to the organization as it sought passage of California’s Proposition 8.
Log Cabin has an awkward history with Romney. In 2007, Log Cabin ran an ad against Romney in Iowa attacking him for not being conservative enough. It included footage of Romney running for U.S. Senate and expressing pro-choice views and distancing himself from former Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. A message at the end of the ad says it came from Log Cabin, but the Blade reported in 2008 that it was financed by Gill Action Fund.
“For years, he’s fought conservatives and religious extremists,” a female voice in the ad states. “Mitt Romney opposed the gun lobby, even Ronald Reagan. … A record fighting the religious right, a pro-choice record, Massachusetts values: Mitt Romney.”
But despite his support for a federal amendment, Romney’s anti-gay positions aren’t as extreme as other GOP candidates who competed against him for the Republican nomination. In a December interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, Romney said he’s “not planning” on working to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” unlike the other candidates such as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Additionally, Romney said that although he backs a Federal Marriage Amendment, he doubts the political wherewithal exists to pass it.
Meanwhile, Romney’s decision to hire Grenell, who’s gay and a former Bush administration official, as his national security and foreign policy spokesman, was viewed as a pivot to the political center now that the primary season is ending. Grenell has come under fire for speaking out on Twitter against women, Democratic officials and the Gingriches. Around 800 tweets were reportedly deleted from his account.
Log Cabin threw its support behind Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008. In a 2008 Q&A with the Washington Blade, McCain said he’d establish a national AIDS strategy and would welcome a review of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — although the lawmaker was the primary opponent of repeal during the 2010 legislative effort. As a U.S. senator, McCain voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and didn’t run for president supporting the measure.
Many gay Republicans and Log Cabin chapter leaders declined to comment when contacted by the Washington Blade about whether Log Cabin should endorse Romney. In a leaked email dated April 13 obtained by the Blade, Log Cabin’s national staff told its chapter leaders not to speak to the Blade about the endorsement.
“We have been informed that Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade is reaching out to our chapter leaders with questions regarding the potential for Log Cabin Republicans to endorse Mitt Romney,” the email reads. “Please redirect Mr. Johnson to the national staff on this issue. No endorsement decision has been made, and it is in the best interest of our organization to refrain from comment at this time.”
Still, a handful of gay Republicans voiced support for the idea of a Romney endorsement when contacted by the Blade.
Bob Kabel, who’s gay and chair of the D.C. Republican Party, responded favorably when asked if he believes the national gay organization should throw its support behind Romney.
“I do think Log Cabin should endorse Romney,” Kabel said. “Romney has a good track record as governor of Massachusetts on gay issues, including appointing a number of openly gay officials in important positions. Other than on marriage, which we have a strong disagreement about, he is actually quite good on gay issues and, in addition, I think Log Cabin would support him because of his background and proven ability to understand the economy and create jobs. That what’s important to so many people, including gay people.”
Although Kabel touts Romney’s work on gay issues in Massachusetts, many LGBT advocates have criticized him for working to block legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and resurrecting a 1913 law preventing non-residents from marrying in the Bay State. According to MassEquality, Romney abolished the Governor’s Commission on GLBT Youth and rescinded an executive order prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the state workforce. Another Republican, former Gov. William Weld, had put those measures in place.
Jim Driscoll, a gay Nevada-based activist who served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the Bush administration, also called on Log Cabin to endorse Romney. Driscoll is a Romney supporter who donated to his campaign — both in 2008 and 2012 — and supported him during the Nevada caucuses.
“I think they should endorse him,” Driscoll said. “It looks to me as if the only issue there is the marriage amendment. This isn’t something that I’ve followed closely, but it seems to me that there’s very little chance that that marriage amendment can pass. It’s kind of a dead issue. I don’t see that it has any momentum. And I suspect that while [Romney] formally favors it, he’s not going to lift his little finger to do anything to see that it passes.”
Outside groups on the right and left had their own views on whether Log Cabin should get behind Romney.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, refrained from directly saying whether Log Cabin should endorse Romney.
“It’s not for me to opine on whether Log Cabin Republicans should or should not endorse Gov. Romney,” LaSalvia said. “It should be noted, however, that in 2004 they emphatically stated that they could not endorse a candidate who supported a Federal Marriage Amendment, and in 2008 they spent more than $100,000 to run television and radio ads attacking Mitt Romney.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said “any credible organization” working for the LGBT community “cannot and should not endorse Mitt Romney,” but noted the question of an endorsement will likely be a difficult one for the organization.
“Log Cabin is in a very precarious situation when it comes to endorsing Mitt Romney,” Davis said. “On the one hand, if they do endorse Romney, they are sending a clear signal to the rest of the LGBT community that being partisan hacks is more important than standing up for LGBT equality. On the other hand, if they don’t endorse Romney they become largely irrelevant in the debate about who will be the next president. Not only would this give their rivals, GOProud, an opening to out flank them on the right, but it would also be problematic for their executive director, who happens to sit on the RNC finance committee.”
Former Log Cabin leaders were reluctant to weigh in on whether the organization should endorse Romney. Guerriero, who after leaving Log Cabin served as head of Gill Action Fund, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. He’s now a partner at Civitas Public Affairs Group.
Patrick Sammon, who headed Log Cabin during its decision to endorse McCain and is now a filmmaker, declined to comment.
But Rich Tafel, who founded the organization and led it from 1993 to 2003, said in an email to the Blade that the organization, “will probably endorse Mitt Romney.”
“Mitt is a moderate, which is [why] he’s had a tough time this primary,” Tafel said. “He has a history of supporting gays and appointing them, which makes him unique among the GOP candidates. He has a 45 percent chance of winning so LCR has a responsibility to ensure it has a role with him should he win. He’ll need to move back to the middle to win this.”