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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Another View of the Log Cabin Endorsement of McCain

Senior Strategist Steve Schmidt addressing Log Cabin Republicans:

I did not attend this event.

Kevin, a Republican blogger at Citizen Crain refutes Crain's analysis of Log Cabin Republicans endorsement of John McCain.

His post calling Log Cabin's endorsement of John McCain this week a "big mistake" was one of the longest he's ever posted, I think, and I can only speculate as to why he's been on such a tear about something that most observers saw coming far in advance. (I would speculate that it was for good reasons, that Chris truly wanted more progress in the GOP, because I know as absolute fact that he doesn't want Log Cabin to fail.) But I think Chris didn't have the context, the history and the real significance of Log Cabin's 2008 decision completely right, and that's where he missed the story.

As he's now reported, the endorsement was warmly accepted by the campaign, which dispatched two of its very senior leaders in person -- and before the media -- to say so. Mike DuHaime (l), the political director (and a Giuliani campaign alum) attended the announcement of the endorsement on Tuesday and gave remarks from the podium saying it was proof that McCain is running an inclusive campaign. Then, senior strategist Steve Schmidt (r), the man seen as the driving force behind McCain's general election campaign, attended an event Thursday and was more personal, effusive and explicit in what he saw as the meaning of Log Cabin's endorsement, and of the broader issues facing gay people, as someone who knows about it first hand as the brother of a lesbian. Schmidt called for Log Cabin to "keep fighting for what you believe in because the day is going to come." The video is here.

As Chris has already pointed out, this is very positive news. And I'll add that the endorsement was woven into it completely. Chris was right to say that the "bar must be lifted" on a consistent basis each election cycle, but he failed to grasp the context of where the bar actually was going into this election, and where it is now after the events in Minneapolis.

Log Cabin is an organization that represents, at best, 800,000 to 1 million votes, or a fraction of a percent of the turnout in the last presidential election. It is also the one group inside the GOP that grates more upon the better organized and more numerous Christian right than any other. And this is a group that publicly and bitterly broke with its party's nominee in the last election four years ago, leaving its access and political capital highly depleted for the second Bush term.

The political price Log Cabin paid for its correct stand in 2004 against George W. Bush may have been the highest of any of its decisions in its history. Already a target of extreme (and unceasing) attacks from the gay left, it was now cast out of the national GOP fold. All the more an indicator of great bravery for a group so small in the big picture. (Does anyone remember anything remotely similar contemplated in 1996 when Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and then bragged about it through campaign ads on Christian radio stations in Colorado, despite being miles ahead in opinion polls?) Measuring where "the bar" would be for Log Cabin as the campaign began last year, therefore, was where I think Chris started to get things wrong.

As they set out with great hopes - despite having no ability to control events -- to fight their way back into the game in 2008, Log Cabin set a couple of basic bottom lines. Support for the Federal Marriage Amendment was a non-starter, and Mitt Romney - for his 180-degree turn away from Log Cabin and supporting gay rights - would have to be punished and stopped from becoming the nominee. And from that basis, they would seek every opportunity to build upward.

By the time they pulled into Minneapolis, Romney was gone, all the men who backed or voted for the FMA in the Congressional vote were defeated. The one man who voted -- and spoke on the floor -- against the FMA emerged the victor. Any Log Cabin leader will tell you that, apart from playing a constructive role in stopping Romney, the organization was in no position after the 2004 breach to have a substantial impact on the primary vote at the ground level or in coalition with Republican national leaders. (For this, their compelling pounce on Romney was a sign of the scrap that has always been in the group's DNA.) In reality, the biggest opportunity to rebuild the blown-up bridges in a way that advanced Log Cabin's mission inside the party would be around the convention and the endorsement decision.

If Log Cabin had merely shown up in Minneapolis, endorsed McCain by press release, and gone home saying they'd simply be focusing on the Proposition 8 fight in California, it would be clear signals that the 2004 action had been more damaging to their capacities inside the party than had been thought. Chris would have certainly declared them finished, and it would be hard to argue against. Some partisan gay Democrats would, of course, be cheering at such news; for purely petty and selfish reasons, they've wanted Log Cabin to fail and disappear for more than a decade. Throughout the blogosphere (including in the comments on this very site) many gays openly call for Log Cabin to be "shunned", to be "silenced", to be "punished" or to have their right to speak, to assemble or even to vote taken away. (The attack on the highly obscure Jonathan Crutchley was a perfect example of this mob mentality that does not, and has never existed, within Log Cabin in return.)

But this didn't happen. And it wasn't going to happen. If you believe that the McCain campaign is captured by the Christian right, and that McCain himself is "gay-bashing" to win this election, there was no sense in, and absolutely nothing that either DuHaime or Schmidt could have possibly gained from, going publicly before Log Cabin's delegation and saying the things they said. The backlash would have been far too severe, if those assumptions were true. And yet, there you are. It happened, and it was another first for a GOP presidential campaign. While Karl Rove did meet with Rich Tafel face-to-face at the 2000 GOP convention, and came to agreement on a number of items in return for an endorsement, he never -- EVER -- would have given a speech before our organization that convention week. And certainly not one with such a personal tone that connected directly to Log Cabin's "fight".