- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2010

The unity of the Republican Party’s electoral coalition may have been dealt a setback this week when longtime top party official Ken Mehlman walked out of the closet.

Many Washington insiders long had suspected that Mr. Mehlman, a former Republican National Committee chairman who ran President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, is gay, but the public admission - and Mr. Mehlman’s promise to work actively for legalizing same-sex marriages - clash for many with the party’s message on social values.

“I could care less if Ken is a gay; it is a private matter. But gay marriage is not,” said Indiana Republican National Committee member Jim Bopp Jr.. Mr. Bopp, a constitutional lawyer who has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, co-founded the first formal conservative caucus within the RNC.

Oregon RNC members Solomon Yue, who co-founded the Republican National Conservative Caucus, said, “As a defender of Ken during his term as RNC chairman, I still love him as my brother-in-arms. I do not care about his sex orientation.”

But, Mr. Yue added, as “a defender of traditional marriage, I do not believe the way Ken’s coming out is helpful to our freedom cause.”

Mr. Yue noted that many traditional-values conservatives in the party were already upset that “their issues are not in the forefront of this movement during the current election.”

Earlier this year, an informal private agreement was reached among some social, religious and fiscal conservatives and Republican officials to emphasize fiscal issues in the midterm elections and to downplay issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research.

But a rupture surfaced in June when prominent social conservative Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, chastised Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels when he suggested that there be a “truce” on fights over social-values issues until the nation overcomes its fiscal woes.

Mr. Perkins said Mr. Mehlman’s revelation posed a major political problem for the Republicans.

“With this announcement about his homosexuality, Ken also announced that he would join the very organization that has mounted the assault on marriage through the activist courts,” Mr. Perkins said.

“It is important for the conservative movement that the Republican Party remains committed to its longtime stands on core social issues. The party and the movement will suffer if the GOP adopts a foolish strategy of seeking votes by pandering to the 2 percent of the population who are homosexual or bisexual and thereby alienating the majority of conservative voters.”

Mr. Bopp and Mr. Yue said some of the uproar over Mr. Daniels’ remarks came from the implication that there was a tension between social and fiscal conservatives where none existed in fact.

“Fiscal responsibility and support for the pro-life position do not have to be mutually exclusive,” said Mr. Yue. “We can defend life while stopping President Obama’s march toward socialism.”

But not everyone on the right agrees that the two movements as so tightly linked.

The limited-government activist group Americans for Prosperity is holding a two-day meeting this weekend in Washington. AFP Vice President Phil Kerpen shrugged his shoulders over the Mehlman revelation.

“I think it is a non-issue,” he said “I can’t think of a single voter who would decide not to vote because of Ken Mehlman. What is motivating most voters is overwhelmingly fiscal issues - out-of-control government spending, first and foremost.”

Mr. Kerpen said social and religious conservatives are important to the GOP’s electoral coalition, especially in certain districts, but “they need to be subordinate to the fiscal issues that most people care about in this election. You can target audiences who care about the social issues.”

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