One after another, Republican presidential candidates seem determined to self-destruct, which puts the Democratic incumbent ahead of the pack
Anyone wanting to see President Barack Obama serve a second term in the White House for the sake of LGBT equality has got to be feeling pretty good about now as his Republican challengers struggle to survive what must be one of the most peculiar national campaign seasons ever.
When the Republican candidates aren’t self-destructing in mass, they appear to be too busy destroying each other to make any headway with the nation’s voters.
Herman Cain, the black, anti-gay Georgia businessman who has led the pack of Republican contenders for president in recent weeks, likely will soon suffer a steep plunge in opinion polls as a result of several women telling the New York Times and other members of the media he sexually harassed them years ago.
Cain calls the allegations “baseless,” but Republican heavyweights, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are showing signs of nervousness and demanding answers as the controversy persists and the number of allegations grows.
Cain attempted at first to brush off the allegations by refusing to discuss them with the media. But that strategy obviously collapsed earlier this week when he finally called a press conference on the campaign trail near Phoenix to answer the charges. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO denied guilt and defiantly vowed to remain in the presidential race.
In a debate with the other Republican candidates this week in Michigan, Cain insisted the sexual harassment allegations would not affect his campaign. He cited a continuing flow of campaign contributions from his supporters as proof of his invincibility.
That resolve could dissipate though if more details of Cain’s alleged improprieties emerge: Two of four women whom Cain allegedly sexually harassed when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s have spoken out publicly. And a fifth report has emerged that he made a woman with whom he dined uncomfortable by allegedly asking her for an introduction to another woman — in addition to sticking her for an $800 bill for two bottles of wine. The dinner followed a speech Cain gave to USAID in Egypt in 2002, according to the Washington Examiner.
Although Cain and his handlers no doubt thought that trying to ignore the controversy might make it go away, he instead came off to many as arrogant and inept.
Things aren’t going any better for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who quickly ascended in the polls after he announced his candidacy for president earlier in the fall. But Perry, another major foe of the LGBT community, fell to the bottom just as fast after giving a series of poor debate performances with other GOP candidates.
The governor continued his fall from grace when he spoke at an event in New Hampshire recently and appeared to be under the influence of some sort of intoxicant, although he issued a denial and attributed the odd behavior to a casual speaking style he had adopted for the evening.
In the Republican debate this week Perry again stumbled by not being able to remember the name of a federal agency he wanted to eliminate if he were elected president. Before the debate Cain’s answer to the sexual harassment question was expected to dominate news coverage afterwards, but Perry’s slip-up instead became the lead.
It was Cain’s second break of the evening during the debate. Earlier, Romney had declined to answer a question about whether he thought Cain was unfit for the presidency because of the sexual harassment allegations.
The problems stunting the Cain and Perry campaigns ordinarily would work to the advantage of the other major Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but the savagery the other GOP candidates’ campaigns will inflict on him in coming months no doubt will offset the advantage.
Political analysts expect Romney, who also demanded answers from Cain this week, will be portrayed in multi-millions of dollars’ worth of advertising as a flip-flopper who can’t be trusted by Republican voters.
For that matter, LGBT voters probably can’t trust Romney either — and we certainly cannot trust Cain or Perry, who already have made it clear they would not support gay rights issues.
In the case of Romney, he does indeed appear to have flip-flopped on issues. Although he once seemed supportive of the LGBT community when he was the governor of Massachusetts, there’s no telling what stand he might take in an effort to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.
As for Perry, his disdain for the LGBT community is well known in Texas. He has long fought rumors that he is secretly gay, and that could be part of the reason for his vehement opposition to any LGBT human rights advances. It was for that reason the picture of him going down on a corn dog at a state fair made him the laughing stock of the country.
Likewise, Cain has already vowed to reverse any gay rights gains seen during Obama’s administration, and the revelations about his alleged sexual harassment of women should concern all LGBT voters. If he repeatedly treated women over whom he had power with disrespect, it’s unlikely that he showed any mercy to gay and lesbian associates he encountered.
But despite the dangers the three major Republican candidates pose to the gay rights movement, the one who wins the nomination will enjoy significant LGBT support. Many LGBT voters believe the Republican Party’s policies regarding the economy, national defense and other issues represent the best course for the country — regardless of the impact on the gay rights movement.
The saving grace for gay rights activists who want to see Obama remain in office is that the Republican Party has failed to come up with a candidate to electrify the nation’s voters. As discouraging as the country’s economic situation remains, Obama continues to outpoll other candidates and would likely win the election if it were held today.
And — at least at this time — it appears unlikely any of the Republican candidates are going to change that scenario by Election Day next year.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November, 11, 2011.