That Jeb Bush is the putative "moderate" in the Republican Party's 2016 presidential field says far more about the ever-rightward movement of the contemporary GOP than it does about Bush's ideological proclivities. Although he bucks the tinfoil-hat crowd on Common Core and supports comprehensive immigration reform, Bush's record on abortion rights, taxes, affirmative action, gun control, and Florida's "stand your ground" law is that of a "head-banging conservative," as he described himself in his first gubernatorial campaign. Still, the rump faction of centrist Republicans hardly has anyone else to whom they can turn in next year's GOP contest, which is shaping up, like 2012, as a battle between the right and the far right. And though Bush situates himself in the former camp, he's making entreaties to the latter.
In a story on how Bush is winning early support from prominent pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Republicans (even though the former Florida governor shares their views on neither issue), the Wall Street Journal's Beth Reinhard and Reid Epstein report that Bush is set to meet with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on the sidelines of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, underscoring Bush's commitment to wooing social conservatives -- even the most extreme.
Since taking the helm of the FRC in 2003, Perkins has acquired a well-earned reputation as one of the country's most vehement opponents of LGBT equality. He doesn't simply oppose same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination measures; Perkins regularly engages in the demonization and smearing of LGBT people. Showing a flagrant disregard for the evidence, Perkins has called pedophilia a "homosexual problem." Homosexuality, he has declared, leads to "eternal damnation." After the suicides of LGBT teens led Dan Savage to start the It Gets Better project, Perkins condemned the initiative as "immoral," "disgusting," and an effort to promote "perversion."
By voting to repeal the military's ban on openly gay soldiers, Perkins thundered in 2010, lawmakers had "the blood of innocent soldiers on their hands.” But he fears the LGBT movement's nefarious campaign for equality may not end there: Last year, Perkins asked whether the LGBT movement would soon put Christian conservatives in "re-education camps" and bring out "the boxcars," a reference to the Holocaust.
Given that he harbors such fervently anti-LGBT views, it comes as little surprise that Perkins has thrown his support behind one of the most draconian anti-LGBT measures to emerge in recent years. In 2010, he defended a since-scrapped Ugandan bill that would have imposed capital punishment for homosexuality by arguing that the legislation "upholds moral conduct."
While Perkins' most notorious efforts have been against LGBT rights, he's fundamentally an ecumenical bigot. While managing Republican Woody Jenkins' 1996 U.S. Senate campaign in Louisiana, Perkins paid $82,500 for the use of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke's phone bank. Five years later, a Louisiana state legislator, Perkins spoke before the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, which has touted its work to "oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called 'affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races." Though Perkins later claimed ignorance of the CCC's white nationalist views, a photo from his 2001 speech shows a beaming Perkins standing in front of a Confederate flag.
Although Bush is unlikely to win Perkins' endorsement -- last year, Perkins said that Bush and Chris Christie were "quite frankly not at the top of the list when it comes to values voters" -- the two have allied in the past; Perkins was a leading supporter of then-Gov. Bush's 2005 intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. And Bush has previously voiced views on homosexuality that read like something out of an FRC email blast. In 1994, Bush wrote that "sodomy" should not "be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion" and compared gay people with "[p]olluters, pedophiles, pornographers, drunk drivers, and developers without proper permits.”
His tone is considerably more moderate now; last month, after a court ruling paved the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Florida, Bush issued a statement urging respect for "the rule of law" and "couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections." In the next breath, however, Bush aligned himself with "those ... who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty," borrowing the language anti-LGBT activists have employed to justify denying marriage licenses, business services, and other accommodations to gay couples.
Bush's upcoming meeting with Perkins, then, doesn't quite constitute a violation of his much-heralded promise not to pander as he seeks the White House. While the former governor has scaled back his rhetoric, his views on LGBT issues are still much more FRC than HRC. To the extent that Bush is doing any LGBT pandering, it's in his changing tone amid increased public support for marriage equality. That Bush is still willing to meet with such a vile bigot exposes the moral bankruptcy of that shift.