Baby steps from the Log Cabin Republicans

By Tim Grieve
Published August 30, 2004 4:25PM (EDT)

The Log Cabin Republicans stepped outside the GOP's big tent Monday morning -- but just a little bit. Amid rumors that the pro-gay Republican group will decide not to endorse George W. Bush, the Log Cabiners scheduled a press conference Monday morning to make a "major announcement." The anticlimactic news: The group is launching a television ad today warning that the right wing is hijacking the GOP.

It's not exactly news for a lot of Americans, but the leaders of the Log Cabin group seem somehow surprised by the hard-right, anti-gay swing in their party. They endorsed Bush in 2000 after he met with them and proclaimed himself a "better man" for it, but now they say that they are "disappointed" in their president and "angry" about the direction of their party.

The anger first surfaced in earnest in February, when Bush announced his support for the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment, and it exploded last week in New York, when party leaders inserted into the proposed Republican platform language opposing any form of legal recognition whatsoever for gay and lesbian couples.

At a time when the party is trying to put its most moderate face forward -- gay-friendly Republicans John McCain and Rudy Giuliani will speak in prime time tonight -- the Log Cabin leaders say that history would judge them harshly if they didn't speak up now.

But where were they in 2000? Log Cabin executive director Patrick Guerriero said the group believed Bush when he said he was a "compassionate conservative" but that Karl Rove has since pushed the party to the right in order to energize its evangelical base.

Guerriero said the strategy has backfired, and that the proof is the prominence of moderate Republicans on the convention stage. "If this was such a great campaign strategy, why isn't Rick Santorum the keynote speaker, why isn't Jerry Falwell offering blessings at 10 o'clock tonight, and why aren't we having a ceremony where Pat Buchanan reregisters as a Republican because the party is conservative enough for him again?"

The group's new TV ad opens with a video clip of Ronald Reagan saying that he hopes history will remember him for appealing to America's "best hopes, not your worst fears." It then contrasts heroic images from Sept. 11 -- including a shot of Giuliani -- with pictures of Santorum and Buchanan. Over the photos, an announcer asks: "Will we unite on the things that matter most, like supporting our troops and winning the war on terror? Or will we divide the American family with the politics of intolerance and fear that only lead to hate?"

The ad will start airing in New York and other parts of the country today, and it is aimed at Republican delegates as much as anyone else. But Guerriero acknowledged that his group will go only so far. It won't demand that gay-friendly speakers like McCain, Giuliani or Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speak up for gays in prime time; it won't even think about bolting from the GOP, and it hasn't yet decided whether it'll endorse Bush's bid for reelection.

In the TV ad, the Log Cabin Republicans say that history will judge the choice the Republican Party makes. By sticking with the GOP, the Log Cabin Republicans have already made their choice. History will judge that, too.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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