Capitol Beat

Corn State To Host Republican Chaff

Linda Pentz
Written by Linda Pentz

“You have gays running rampant on one hand, and Christians being lynched on the other,” said Ted Cruz.   “But, there is a solution,” he added.  “We should build a nuclear bomb and use it to defend our right to believe in God as our one true Father.”

The presidential campaign trail is filled with such extreme rhetoric these days that we can easily be gulled into believing this was the latest inflammatory insanity coming out of the Cruz camp.  Except it isn’t.  It was the work of the satirical news site, Newslo, the words ringing with a chilling element of plausible authenticity.

After all Cruz did just tell an Iowa audience that allowing a transgender girl to use a school faculty restroom was “probably better than sticking him in the shower with the teenage girls.”  He also mentioned that his 5-year old daughter “knows the difference between boys and girls,” which is more than can be said for Cruz himself.

As a storm-tossed January takes its dramatic leave, we head to the farm state of Iowa and the impending caucuses, where the corn will be separated from the chaff.  Not that there is really any chaff on the Democratic side.  The hapless Martin O’Malley will likely see his swan song in Iowa unless something untoward occurs.  Otherwise it’s onward for Hillary and Bernie who, like rock stars, no longer require a last name (or an exclamation point.)  All three stand solidly in support of LGBT rights.

On the Republican side, however, it’s pretty much all chaff.  Applying the acid test of marriage equality, the candidates are all of one mind: opposed.  This despite the fact that it is the law of the land.  Time to move on already, Alabama chief justice, Roy Moore,  notwithstanding.  (If a judge, who is meant to uphold the law, declares he will defy it, why isn’t he just disbarred?)

The slash and burn hate speech has become so normal that spoofs like Newslo’s Cruz parody are posted routinely on social media by readers believing them to be real news stories.  Times were tamer when I headlined my March 2015 column,  “No Cruz Control on this Presidential Country Road.”   Today, much of the Republican presidential campaign rhetoric — most notably of course in the Cruz and Trump camps — is out of control.

In October, Cruz addressed the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, organized by Kevin Swanson who has called for “the death penalty for homosexuals.”  The Cruz campaign refused to recant their candidate’s presence there, and told the Rachel Maddow Show that Swanson’s support for the execution of gay people was “not explicit.”  The pamphlets Swanson’s supporters distributed at the conference called for “death to gays.”  Nothing explicit there.

And yet there is a certain reticence among GOP presidential hopefuls to deliberately raise LGBT issues.  Or a lack of clarity.  A look at the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) scorecard on where the Republican candidates stand on LGBT rights reveals — with notable exceptions like Marco Rubio who opposes everything — a smattering of unclears and to-be-decideds.

Even Ben Carson’s recent response to suggestions that he might want to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was riven with equivocation.  “I would be willing to sit down with people from both sides and examine the evidence and make decisions based on what the evidence shows,” Carson said.  This came in response to Carson’s new campaign chairman, retired Major Gen. Robert F. Dees, who seemed to suggest women and gays should not serve.  But Carson declined to straight out endorse this view.

However, a number of the Republican candidates have either signed or endorsed the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act.  FADA is an ugly piece of legislation that would on its face, explains HRC, “prohibit discrimination by the federal government based on individual beliefs about same-sex marriage.  In reality, this bill would allow nonprofit organizations and businesses contracting with the federal government to circumvent critical federal protections designed to protect same-sex couples and their families from harmful discrimination.”

Rubio, who some now predict will be the come-from-behind Republican winner in the upcoming caucuses and primaries, supports FADA.  Yet, while clearly opposed to marriage equality, Rubio has muddled audiences by failing to clarify whether he supports flouting the law or trying to change it.

Trump has nothing to lose by denouncing marriage equality given that it is already law, but what does he really think?  Gay actor, George Takei, once a celebrity contestant on The Apprentice, tried to find out by inviting Trump to lunch and asking him.

As the lunch began, Trump told Takei he had just come from a gay wedding which he described enthusiastically as “a beautiful marriage.”  Takei pointed out the hypocrisy of Trump’s position: “he was for traditional marriage, despite the fact that he’d been married three times.  That is not traditional.”  Publicly, however, Trump continues to oppose marriage equality.

But with occasional exceptions, Republican candidates appear to be steering away from deliberately addressing LGBT concerns.  Clearly the bigotry is still there and the GOP presidential road is paved with bad intentions toward the LGBT community.  But it’s just not front and center in the political debate environment.

This could be interpreted as a reason for cheer.  Perhaps credit should be taken for all the hard work in the trenches that has turned the country around on LGBT rights.  Americans overwhelmingly declare their support in polls not only for marriage equality but against the idea of using religion as a reason to deny fellow human beings their basic civil rights.

But possibly there is a second explanation as well.  It’s personal.  The only people in America still truly deep in the closet are the straight ones who don’t know any gay people.  The commitment to come out and to publicly tell the personal stories of LGBT life in America has opened the eyes, if not all the hearts and minds, of most voting Americans.  And while many will still routinely vote against their self-interests (e.g. poor whites opposing Obamacare), they may be less inclined to vote against their gay nephew or aunt.  (There are of course painful exceptions and the battle is by no means won.)

So no, those “Make America Gay Again” caps did not come out of the Trump campaign (they are an HRC creation.)  And Iowa isn’t all about corn fields.  In fact, the state is home to more than 3,000 giant wind turbines and has the third largest installed-wind-energy capacity of all U.S. states.  Too bad it’s about to play host once again to a whole lot of Republican hot air.

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