The only good thing about the Donald Trump presidential campaign, which racked up two more wins Saturday, is that it surfaces all the ugliness that the Republican leadership wraps in a velvet cloak and pretends is high fashion. The most recent example is Trump’s showy unwillingness to disavow former KKK leader David Duke, which he eventually did with a laughably unbelievable excuse.
This allowed the GOP leadership to give a demonstration of controlled panic at the idea of a Trump presidency. “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” Speaker of the House (and failed vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan said. “They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals.”
Of course, this assertion is hysterical coming from the party of voter suppression, birtherism, and speeches to white supremacists. But it’s especially hypocritical when it comes to anti-gay bigotry. The GOP has made homophobia a pillar of its electoral strategy. Given the choice between people’s prejudices and their highest ideals, Republican leaders have chosen prejudices every time.
Here are five examples of just how much bigotry is part of the Republican fabric.
1. Ensuring the failure of ENDA
If the Employment Non-Discrimination Act were ever allowed to come to a full vote in the House of Representatives, it would probably pass. There are a handful of Republicans who would buck the party and join with Democrats to vote in favor of the workplace protection bill, just as there was in the Senate. But, catering to the most conservative members, the House leadership will never allow a vote on the bill. Even though seven in 10 Americans believe that firing someone because they are LGBT should be illegal, the Republican establishment insists on the right of businesses to can someone just for who they are.
2. Appealing to homophobia to increase voter turnout
The classic case for using gay rights as a wedge issue was in 2004, when Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s frontal lobe, decided that having anti-marriage initiatives on state ballots would drive evangelical voters to the polls. Eleven states had anti-marriage ballot measures that year, and there’s no question that they played a role in turnout. Whether that made a difference in the general election is a matter of dispute; John Kerry was never going to win Mississippi, for example. But it may have made a difference in the pivotal state of Ohio, delivering its electoral vote to Bush. Even if it didn’t turn the election, the fact that the party’s leadership would think playing on homophobia was a brilliant campaign strategy tells you all you need to know about the leadership’s high moral values.
3. Milking the religious liberty exception to marriage
Having lost the marriage war, the Republican leadership is still encouraging skirmishes against the right to marry by promoting the religious liberty argument. There’s the love fest with Kim Davis and the rash of state initiatives protecting bigotry disguised as religious belief. But even the so-called moderate in the presidential race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, promotes a warped idea of progress. He thinks that businesses shouldn’t discriminate against LGBT people, but if they do, we should just cut them a break.
4. Courting hate groups
What would the Republican primary season be without hate groups and other right-wing bigots front and center? This election cycle includes Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. Ted Cruz relied upon religious right leaders to take him to victory in Iowa. Only in today’s GOP would someone like Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson find a platform for his hate speech.
5. Blocking gay presidential appointees
Congressional Republicans block Obama’s nominees for courts or the executive branch reflexively, but in a few cases the obstructionism has been pointed at gay nominees. Marco Rubio, the notorious switch hitter of the Senate (we’re talking about policy flip-flops, of course) recommended a gay black man, William Thomas, to the federal bench, only to bail on his support when the president nominated Thomas. Edward DuMont would have been the first openly gay man on the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals, the federal court just one step below the Supreme Court, but despite outstanding credentials, his nomination went nowhere. Eric Fanning’s nomination to be Secretary of the Army is on indefinite hold by Sen. Pat Roberts, for no other reason than because Roberts can. “I want to stress it’s nothing personal,” Roberts insists.
Why do we find that hard to believe?
Of course, there are a lot more examples where these came from. The point is that leaders have been coyly pretending that they object to LGBT rights for a policy reasons, while at the same time enabling really vile hate talk and courting extremists who believe that homosexuality should be a capital offense.
So the next time you hear a Republican leader talk about how the party abhors bigotry, look for a fire extinguisher, because his pants are probably on fire.