Ken Melhman's decision to come out and identify as gay, thus confirming one of the oldest rumors in Washington, is a big victory for opponents of Prop. 8, the California ban on gay marriage. Prop. 8 is currently up on appeal after being struck down by a federal judge earlier this month.
Mehlman is the former chair of the Republican National Committee and was White House political director and top re-election operative for President Bush in 2004. Yeah, that was the year they strategically used anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in key states to drive up evangelical vote totals to give us four more years of Bush and save us from the incoherent, elliptical ramblings of a President John Kerry.
Anyway, his decision to identify as gay, which he revealed in an interview with The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder Wednesday, is being hailed by some as courageous, and others as cowardly and too-little-too-late. (See the comments on the Ambinder piece.) One thing's for sure, though, this is great news for opponents of Prop. 8.
Just to start, there's the fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is bankrolling the expensive opposition lawsuit. Mehlman told The Advocate that he'd already secured commitments for $750,000 for a fundraiser he's organizing set for September. That's a pretty staggering sum of money, and the thing is still weeks away. He comes with the best Republican rolodex of any non-former president in the party. And now, post politics, he's an executive with the high-powered private equity firm KKR.
And take a look at the list of people who have committed: Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Lew Eisenberg, former Republican National Committee finance chairman and national finance chairman for Sen. John McCain; and Mark and Nicole Wallace, former United Nations ambassador and White House communications director under Bush, respectively.
This isn't Ken Mehlman coming out. This is like the establishment of the Republican Party coming out. As The Advocate piece notes, this is the equivalent of getting Ted Olson, the long time conservative litigator, to run the court fight with David Boies.
Except in some ways it's even more important. Mehlman's move could encourage other gay Republicans in Washington to come out.
Christian conservatives are already on the defensive, as the libertarian wing — the Tea Party — of the Republican Party has re-asserted itself, and often privately, if unfairly, blame the evangelicals for the party's descent since 2004.
If the bulk of the Republican Party back in Washington says they won't participate in attacks on gays and gay rights, if they won't go on Fox News to attack the “homosexual agenda,” then victory will be near.
Finally, a colleague noted an amusing quote from Mehlman in the Ambinder piece: He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called “the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.”
Uh, maybe because at the time the Republican Party felt like the second greatest anti-gay force in the world, and one that was a bit closer to home. But that's a minor point.