Aftershocks of Orlando: Is GOP in 'Solidarity' with LGBT Community or Squirming Over Trump's Embrace?

By Lisa Keen

The aftershocks of a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub June 12 continued to rattle through the 2016 presidential campaign during the past week.

Almost every day, Donald Trump claimed that LGBT voters would support him because he wants to ban Muslims who, he says, "murder gays." He made several vague statements that many interpreted as suggesting that President Obama had "something" to do with the Orlando attack. Then former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain explicitly claimed that President Obama was "directly responsible" for the Orlando attack.

Hillary Clinton's campaign struck back, posting a video on Twitter Friday that reviewed the many previous statements Trump has made that indicate he would not be particularly supportive of the LGBT community. And even some high profile Republicans struck back, saying they could not support Trump.

Add to this: A co-founder of a now-defunct gay conservative group who has harshly criticized Trump supporters in the past is now circulating a letter to seek LGBT support for Trump.

Chris Barron, co-founder of GOProud, confirmed that he is circulating a letter seeking LGBT support for Trump, but declined to release the letter and did not respond to other questions about his efforts by deadline. In a statement to CNN, Barron said Trump's remarks following the Orlando shooting were a "game changer."

"I have no doubt that Donald Trump would be better for LGBT Americans," Barron told CNN. "Hillary Clinton wants to continue a reckless foreign policy that has made the world less safe for all Americans, including LGBT Americans. She can find plenty of time to crucify Christians in the U.S. for perceived anti-gay bias, but when we've got ISIS throwing gay people off of buildings, when we have Muslim states that are prescribing the death penalty for people who are gay, I would think this would be something that a friend of the LGBT community would be able to speak out on, and Hillary Clinton (is) unable to do so." Barron also penned an essay for CNN, published June 17.

The other co-founder of GOProud, Jimmy LaSalvia, had a much different take on the idea of voting for Trump.

"The untenable GOP coalition includes anti-gay bigotry, and those voters aren't going to let Trump embrace the LGBT (community) in any substantive way," said LaSalvia. "I suspect that we have seen the extent of (Trump's pro-LGBT statements) with his recent comments that specifically mention LGBT voters. The anti-gay forces in the GOP won't let him go further without backlash."

"LGBT voters know better than most what it's like to have our lives used as political pawns," added LaSalvia. "Trump's divide-and-conquer style campaign, pitting some Americans against others, isn't going to play well with LGBT voters. We've been on the wrong side of those attacks before."

Log Cabin Republicans national President Gregory Angelo was yet a third take on Trump's remarks following Orlando. He says the candidate seems to be trying to play "unifier of the GOP's various wings."

"Only time will tell if his gambit pays off," said Angelo.

Rich Tafel, former president of the Log Cabin group, said, "Now (that) the GOP nominee is courting gays too," his remarks are marking the "last gasp of the culture wars from the '90s."

Republicans, he said, "are wondering if this guy isn't about to turn on them on one of their key issues, anti-gay bigotry...I don't expect they'll speak out against Trump on this stuff because they've kept their mouths shut on his vulgar behavior before. They must be squirming."

Many Republicans are squirming and some are even announcing they won't support Trump, though none are citing his pro-LGBT remarks as a problem. GOP leaders have chastised Trump for repeating his call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. following the Orlando shooting by an American-born citizen whose parents came from Afghanistan. He's also repeatedly claimed that an American-born citizen whose ancestors came from Mexico cannot objectively preside over litigation against Trump, who has notoriously called for building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

On the Monday after the Orlando attack Trump gave a speech saying, "Our nation stands together in solidarity with the members of Orlando's LGBT community."

"A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation," said Trump, according to a transcript from Time magazine.

"It's a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation. It's an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity," said Trump.

He also said his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. should appeal to LGBT people because "radical Islamic terrorists...enslave women and murder gays."

"Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country and who suppress women, gays and anyone who doesn't share their views or values," said Trump.

On Wednesday in Atlanta, he said, "The LGBT community, the gay community, the lesbian community-they are so much in favor of what I've been saying over the last three to four days."

And on Thursday, at a rally in Dallas he said, "LGBT is starting to like Donald Trump very much now."

"You tell me who's better for the gay community and who's better for women than Donald Trump," said Trump.

By Friday, Trump seemed more riled up than usual. Sweating visibly at the podium he said that, "if some of those wonderful people" in the Orlando club had had guns "strapped to their waists or right to their ankle, and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting and one of the people in that room happened to have (a gun) and goes 'boom, boom'-you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight folks."

The crowd at the Woodlands, Texas venue cheered wildly, but most polls show Clinton with a 6 to 12-point lead over Trump, and reports are circulating that some Republican Party delegates are looking for a way to nominate someone other than Trump at the national convention next month.

Other top Republicans are putting some distance between themselves and Trump. During Trump's romp through Texas last week, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had "previously scheduled activities" that his office said prevented him from meeting with Trump. Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio said he can't support Trump, and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said he wouldn't even vote for Trump. So did U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan. One-time Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler of South Dakota penned an opinion piece for The Hill newspaper saying he is endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"The Orlando shooting convinced me that many Republicans/Independents/citizens have a responsibility to speak out now to get some background check legislation passed. Secretary Hillary Clinton has been very courageous on this subject - she has stood up to the NRA," wrote Pressler.

Pressler added, "many of my fellow Republicans and Independents have whispered to me the same feelings, but they say they will simply quietly not vote in the presidential election."

Trump seemed to acknowledge last week that Republican leaders are distancing themselves from him, saying he may be "forced" to proceed without GOP leadership support.

"The Republicans, honestly, folks, our leaders, our leaders have to get tougher. This is too tough to do it alone," said Trump, according to a Washington Times account. But you know what? I think I'm going to be forced to. I think I'm going to be forced to... We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well."

The Democrats have their own split to contend with, though it is not nearly so dramatic as that of the Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who mounted a strong challenge to Clinton during the Democratic primaries, is continuing to withhold his support from the party's nominee despite losing the final primary in Washington, D.C. June 14.

But most prominent Democrats have gotten behind Clinton, and one openly gay member of Congress who held off on taking sides in the Clinton-Sanders battle - Mark Pocan of Wisconsin - endorsed Clinton last Thursday.

President Obama endorsed Clinton on June 9, as did a favorite of Sanders' supporters: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Obama

And the rancor between Democrats and Republicans continues, even over the Orlando shooting.

Attending a memorial event Thursday for the victims of the June 12 Orlando shooting, President Obama said the massacre was both an "an act of terrorism" and an "attack on the LGBT community."

"You can't make up the world into 'us' and 'them' and denigrate and express hatred towards groups because of the color of their skin, or their faith, or their sexual orientation and not feed something very dangerous in this world," said Obama.

"...We have to end discrimination and violence against our brothers and sisters who are in the LGBT community - here at home and around the world, especially in countries where they are routinely persecuted. We have to challenge the oppression of women, wherever it occurs - here or overseas. There's only 'us' - Americans."

The president praised the "outpouring of love that so many across our country have shown to our fellow Americans who are LGBT, a display of solidarity that might have been unimaginable even a few years ago."

But that same day, U.S. Sen. John McCain told a gaggle of reporters that he thinks President Obama is "directly responsible" for the Orlando mass shooting in an LGBT nightclub because he enabled ISIS to grow when he pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq. McCain later used Twitter to "clarify" his remark, saying he was not referring to President Obama himself, but to "President Obama's national security decisions" as having led to the rise of ISIS.


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