A Look Inside the Dark Heart of the GOP

Evidence that Republican leaders and conservative pundits want to shake off their anti-gay image continues to mount. Since the 2008 election, gay marriage has become legal in four more states and the District of Columbia, yet conservatives have been virtually silent. As Congress moves to repeal the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, Republicans are almost all voting against it, but they’re not making a lot of noise about it.  Jonathan Rauch cites the lack of interest in Iowa in overturning the state court’s gay marriage decision and Republican strategist Grover Norquist’s observation that the Tea Party enthusiasm is focusing Republicans and conservatives on economic rather than social issues.

Many politicians have had a long dark night of the poll. They know that public opinion on gay rights has changed. Gallup just issued a poll showing that more than half of Americans believe that “gay or lesbian relations” are “morally acceptable.” Seventy percent, including majorities of all demographic groups, favor allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. Those are big changes since 2003, much less 1993, and politicians can read polls. Indeed, one thing that gay progress shows us is that cultural change precedes political change.

But out in the real world, where real Republicans live, the picture isn’t as promising. In the Virginia suburbs of Washington this week, Patrick Murray defeated Matthew Berry in a Republican primary. Berry, formerly a lawyer for the Institute for Justice and the Department of Justice, seemed to be better funded and better organized than Murray, an Iraq war veteran. The Republican in my household received at least two mailers and three phone calls from the Berry campaign and nothing from Murray. So why did Murray win? Well, Berry is openly gay, and David Weigel at the Washington Post reports that the Murray campaign did send out flyers focusing on gay issues. They may have gone only to Republicans in the more conservative parts of the district. And Republican activist Rick Sincere tells me that “in the last few days before the election, I received numerous emails from the Murray campaign that included subtle reminders that Matthew is gay and supports an end to DADT. He also, in a Monday email, took a quotation from Matthew out of context to make it look like he supports a federally-enforced repeal of Virginia’s anti-marriage law. In other words, Murray played the anti-gay card.” Blogger RedNoVa made similar observations, adding, “If you were at the Matthew Berry party last night, you would notice that the average age in the room was about 30. Young people were everywhere. The future of our party was there. Murray’s campaign crowd was older, and full of party purists.”

But Northern Virginia is far more genteel than western Tennessee, where the Jackson Sun recently reported that two Republican congressional candidates suggested that physical violence was an appropriate response to gays who enlist in the military:

Republicans Stephen Fincher, Dr. George Flinn, Dr. Ron Kirkland and Randy Smith as well as independent Donn Janes took part in the event…

The candidates said that they think President Barack Obama and Democrats’ support for ending the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is “political correctness” that adds an unnecessary stress on the military.

Flinn portrayed ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the latest in an effort by Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to weaken the military.

Kirkland, a Vietnam veteran, said of his time in the military: “I can tell you if there were any homosexuals in that group, they were taken care of in ways I can’t describe to you.”

Smith, who served in the first Iraqi war, added: “I definitely wouldn’t want to share a shower with a homosexual. We took care of that kind of stuff, just like (Kirkland) said.”

With Republicans like that, it’s no wonder that many moderates, centrists, and libertarians still aren’t sure they want to vote Republican, even with Democrats running up the deficit and extending federal control over health care, education, automobile companies, newspapers, and more.