Which comes first: politics or principle? In Ken Mehlman’s case, it’s impossible to know.
Once a loyal foot soldier in George W. Bush’s intensely homophobic 2004 re-election campaign, the former chair of the Republican National Committee finally came out and became a vocal advocate for marriage equality. So much so, in fact, that Mehlman is about to sign onto his second Supreme Court brief arguing for the cause.
At the same time, Mehlman is squiring Jeb Bush around and introducing him to fat cat donors. Yes, the same Jeb Bush who proclaimed himself “a supporter of traditional marriage” the last time the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue. And just last week, as a reminder of where he stands.
Mehlman’s connection with Bush is taken as a sign that the former Florida governor is evolving on gay issues. This would be an evolution on the scale of the development of primordial ooze into Homo sapiens, without the intervening millions of years.
Mehlman isn’t the only openly gay Bush supporter. Bush has hired Tim Miller, who is currently running an opposition research PAC, as his key communications person. Last time out, Miller supported Jon Huntsman, who was the only pro-gay major GOP presidential candidate and whose campaign evaporated quicker than a dew drop on a klieg light. Bush is also surrounding himself with pro-marriage staffers and supporters.
Now, having a major Republican candidate come out in favor of gay rights, let alone gay marriage, would be a huge step forward into the 21st century. There are only two problems with it:
- Embracing marriage equality guarantees that the ultra-conservative base will revolt, making it nigh on impossible to win the nomination.
- Bush has been so antigay up until now that any shift in his stand is going to seem motivated by the cash that the establishment donors, who know the party must change, are lavishing on him.
As you might imagine, the very idea of Bush showing anything like support for gay people, let alone gay marriage, drives religious conservatives ’round the bend. Iowa radio host Steve Deace, whose support will be crucial in the 2016 presidential campaign, said that by hiring Miller, Bush was giving conservatives “a middle finger.”
He’s also extending a hand to homophobes. Bush just met with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the same Tony Perkins who has made a living attacking anything gay and who said marriage equality would lead to civil war.
What we’re seeing is a cute little game that Republicans are very good at playing, in which the media is fed a line from insiders meant to convey the “real” candidate. Bush wants to appeal to Republican establishment donors, who know the party has to move on marriage equality. At the same time, he doesn’t want to go out of his way to alienate the wingnuts that constitute the party base any more than he has to.
So we get the public Bush and the private Bush, and we’re supposed to believe that the private Bush is the one we’ll see when he’s safely ensconced in the White House. He’s not nearly as conservative as you might think. The media has bought this hook, line and sinker–and shame on them, having done the same thing with Jeb’s brother. Those bothersome little issues like reiterating support for traditional marriage and meeting with one of the top homophobes in America–well, those don’t fit the narrative, so you won’t be hearing about them so much.
So how does Mehlman fit into this cozy picture? He certainly provides Bush with the cover he needs for the private image he’s cultivating in the media. Maybe Mehlman truly believes that Jeb Bush will change and accept LGBT rights. But you have to have a pretty high tolerance for, shall we say, contradiction to throw your support behind someone who has said that the religious liberty (aka, the right to discriminate at will) deserves the same protection as your rights.
It wasn’t that long ago that Mehlman was full in on W’s manipulation of antigay sentiment in swing states to get reelected. In fact, he was one of the architects of it. Now he’s back to playing with fire again. Once burned, apparently he’s not averse to getting too close to the flame again. Or maybe principle comes ahead of politics only when its convenient.
And until Bush actually comes out with an unequivocally supportive statement, don’t buy the evolution theory. It’s more a creationist myth.