Fred Karger: 'The GOP should welcome all LGBT Americans'

Part 2 of an interview with the veteran political consultant and first openly gay candidate for president. Photo: LGBT rainbow flag

FLORIDA, April 5, 2012 — The LGBT community is gaining unprecedented influence in American politics. How might the Republican Party become more inclusive toward it?

Many believe that if the GOP becomes more socially tolerant, it could lose some elections as fundamentalist Christian voters might stay home. However, tolerance does seem necessary if the support of younger voters is sought. What can be said about this seeming conundrum?

In this second part of our discussion, Fred Karger shares his views. A career political operative, he rose to prominence by consulting the campaigns of notables such as Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. His most famous cause, though, is not for a single politician but for an extremely divisive issue, same-sex marriage.

Karger brought much attention to the matter when he ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination during last year’s primaries. In doing so, he became the first openly gay candidate for the presidency.

Karger also tells us about whether or not he believes that antiabortion politics will continue to be a prominent feature of GOP social policy, what he learned from his presidential run, and what inspires him to continue on in his career each day. 

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Joseph F. Cotto: In a summary sense, how might the Republican Party become more 
inclusive toward the LGBT community?

Fred Karger: The day before I filed my papers at the Federal Election Commission in Washington, DC in April 2011, I met with newly elected RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Co-Chair Sharon Day and Chief of Staff Jeff Larson in their offices at the RNC. They welcomed me into the race, offered my campaign all the facilities of the RNC, included my campaign staff in all meetings and could not have been more cordial. The RNC had me on its list of 12 recommended candidates to be on state primary ballots, which was the principal reason that I was on so many. 

This is the direction that the Republican Party needs to be taking on LGBT rights, and it should welcome all LGBT Americans into the GOP not just with words, but with actions.  

Cotto: From your perspective, will antiabortion politics continue to be a prominent feature of GOP social policy?

Karger: Sadly, the politics of abortion will be around forever in this country. We need to respect each other’s positions on this highly emotional issue. President Reagan was a shining example of this. While he adamantly opposed abortion, he worked with both sides of the issue, while continuing to speak out loudly on his beliefs. 

Cotto: Many believe that if the Republican Party becomes more socially tolerant, it could lose some elections as fundamentalist Christian voters might stay home. However, tolerance does seem necessary if the support of younger voters is wanted. What do you think about this seeming problem?

Karger: Republican leaders got a loud wakeup call last November 6th with the trouncing that Mitt Romney took against a weakened President Obama. Change is happening albeit all too slowly for many of us. Party leaders and elected officials will have to alter their ways. We cannot afford to drive away an entire generation of younger voters if we expect to survive as a political party.

Cotto: Last year, you ran for the GOP presidential nomination. Campaigning for national office is an undertaking so massive that few of us can fully comprehend it. What did you learn from your candidacy?

Karger: I was treated amazingly well for a first-time candidate. I learned how to run a national campaign on a very limited budget by concentrating my efforts in the first two early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. We did all the things that the big campaigns did only on a much more limited basis. From the very beginning, I needed to appear as a serious candidate, so it was imperative that everything that we did and said was well thought out and looked like a presidential candidate and campaign should look. The internet and social media afforded us the opportunity to communicate cost effectively and instantly. 

I was very fortunate as the first openly gay candidate of either major political party to receive a tremendous amount of news coverage worldwide because of the historic nature of my candidacy. I also learned that the first time may not always be the path to the nomination. 

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you came to be a noted political operative and voice for LGBT rights. What inspires you to continue on in your work each day?

Karger: I will forever remember the 16 year old girl who came up to me in a parade in Manchester, New Hampshire three days before last year’s primary. She said she was a lesbian who had struggled with that for years. She had driven many miles to meet me, shake my hand and thank me for running for president. She said that had made her life so much better. It gave her hope that she could do whatever she wanted to do in her life. I don’t even know her name, but she represented so many young people who sent emails, facebook messages, tweeted, and reached out to me with a similar message. 

That’s what got me up each and every morning for the 2½ years that I campaigned for president and continues to motivate all my LGBT activism. I want kids growing up today to have a far easier time of it than so many of us did before them. 


Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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