Rick Perry's campaign to win the Republican nomination is not doing so well. He's described as "foundering in the polls," and compared himself to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow in terms of needing "a comeback in the fourth quarter," although "obsession with Jesus" might also have been a meaningful connection to make. And in the grand tradition of conservative politicians whose actual policy ideas aren't winning over voters, he's falling back on taking one side in a cultural battle that socially conservative and religious voters feel strongly about, and claiming that he'll protect America and the church from an imaginary gay menace. For instance, you may have heard about his campaign ad just before the Iowa debate, Strong? Aside from fostering a wealth of parody memes, it also didn't do anything for him at all in the real world. In fact, Iowa citizens heckled him instead, asking "Why do you hate gay people so much?"
Now, it's become clear Rick Perry has failed to impress even the last bastion of potential supporters -- anti-gay bigots. After he's risked, and lost, the regard and respect of everyone who doesn't openly hate gay people, he's finding that he hasn't even managed to endear himself to the people who do. Last week, the American Family Association gave their endorsement to Newt Gingrich, and the Family Leader organization has just endorsed Rick Santorum. It appears that Rick Perry's platform is unimpressive enough that even aggressive advertising of how far he's willing to go to marginalize our community won't win over the organizations who have made that one of their major goals. And he also seems to have underestimated the average Republican voter in terms of how much homophobia they bring to the ballot box:
At a historic hotel in Maquoketa, 61-year-old Len Ditch sat in the front row, wearing a Perry for President sticker. He said he liked Perry’s commercials in Iowa — especially one recommending that Congress be made part-time. He liked another one advocating prayer in schools but questioned why Perry had included a reference to gays serving openly in the military. “I don’t believe in the gay world. But I believe live and let live,” he said.
Rick Perry at least has one supporter left, although she doesn't have socially conservative political currency in the same way that the American Family Association does, she does have a fierce Texas accent.
The candidate who did get the AFA's nomination, Newt Gingrich, is taking a different tack when it comes to the gay community. While he's not centering his campaign around oppressing us in a last-ditch effort to win over bigots, he's also aware that he's not our friend -- and doesn't really care to be. When asked how he would "engage with" voters for whom marriage equality is a central issue, Gingrich effectively shrugged and said he couldn't.
I think, for those for whom the only issue that really matters is the definition of marriage, I won’t get their support, and I accept that that’s a reality. On the other hand, for those for whom it’s not the central issue in their life, if they care about job creation, if they care about national security, if they care about a better future for the country at large, then I think I’ll get their support.
Widely quoted (although not exactly correctly) as having said that gay voters should just support Obama, Gingrich does appear pretty unconcerned at the idea of losing the gay vote. That's not really surprising -- we make up a very small percentage of voters, and were likely voting Democrat anyways -- but he also leaves room for the possibility that gay voters will "engage" with him, as long as marriage equality and/or the recognition of their full equality as citizens of the United States, which for some does in fact come as a shock. Far from basing an entire campaign on his willingness to throw gays under the bus, like Rick Perry, Gingrich claims that his platform will also benefit gay Americans, and seems to think there's at least a possibility they might feel the same way. While that belief may not be borne out in an election, it seems to have appealed to the Log Cabin Republicans, who have taken offense that most news outlets are reporting virtually the opposite of Gingrich's statement:
“In this political climate, the door is wide open for a strong Republican candidate to win the support of conservatives, independents and disillusioned Democrats – and there are those who are working hard to paint any and all Republicans as bigoted in a fear-mongering effort to shore up the president’s base.That is unfair and highly unfortunate for our community,”
Aside from Fred Karger, who most commentators have never really considered a contender, most Republican candidates have at best ignored gay voters and at worst, as with Perry, campaigned on a marked dislike of them. The current crop of GOP frontrunners have been called a "uniquely anti-gay field." But Rick Perry and his Brokeback-esque jacket have been largely subject to derision and Tim Tebow jokes in recent weeks, while for better or for worse Newt Gingrich is considered one of the most likely contenders for the nomination. Michele Bachmann's anti-gay remarks have done nothing but embarrass her in the eyes of voters. 2011 has been a year of progress in a lot of ways for the queer community; while "appealing to the Republican party" may not have been high on our list of priorities, it may be one of the more positive developments of the past few years. Especially depending on how the 2012 election goes. Gays may never be loved by the Republican party, but when it's our healthcare and families at stake, wouldn't it be better not to be feared and hated?