Robby Soave noted earlier today that while gay conservatives and libertarians (and their supporters) may have struggles dealing with the leadership and tone of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the reality is that the Republican Party is going to have to, by necessity, come to terms with a country full of happy, legally married gay folks.
Buzzfeed reports today that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, likely 2016 presidential candidate, appears to be leaning in to this shift, as evidenced by who he is picking to join his team:
When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching equality for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay.
To an extent that would have been unthinkable in past elections, one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has stocked his inner circle with advisers who are vocal proponents of gay rights. And while the Bush camp says his platform will not be shaped by his lieutenants' personal beliefs, many in the monied, moderate, corporate wing of the GOP — including pragmatic donors, secular politicos, and other members of the establishment — are cheering the early hires as a sign that Bush will position himself as the gay-friendly Republican in the 2016 field.
In addition to [David] Kochel, who is expected to run the national campaign, Bush has hired Tim Miller, a star communications and research operative who is gay; longtime aide Sally Bradshaw, whose support for her pro-gay preacher recently showed up in a New York Times profile; and Mike Murphy, the veteran GOP consultant who joined other prominent Republicans in signing a 2013 brief calling on the Supreme Court to overturn California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8. What makes this band of operatives unique is not just that they support gay rights, but that many have made it their mission in the past to bring the party along with them.
With his team in place, Bush has attracted a wave of early support from many of the party's most prominent gay rights advocates. Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chair who authored the Prop. 8 brief, has reportedly been introducing Bush to donors. At least a dozen of the brief's 80 signatories have either endorsed him, donated to him, or gone to work for him. Tom Ridge, the former Homeland Security secretary who regularly preaches LGBT inclusion to his fellow Republicans, has declared himself an enthusiastic Bush-backer.
Reporter McKay Coppins says that despite Bush outwardly having the same position on gay marriage as guys like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz (pro-traditional marriage, but let the states decide), supporters believe that Bush would pivot more openly in favor of gay marriage recognition if the Supreme Court provides a favorable ruling this summer. This would certainly separate him from Cruz, who has said he wants to introduce a constitutional amendment giving states control over their marriage laws should the Supreme Court rule that bans on same-sex marriage recognition violate the 14th Amendment.
A lot of Coppins' reporting, though, is triangulation based on Bush's slow evolution on gay issues combined with hopeful comments from gay-friendly conservatives within Bush's orbit. A favorable Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage renders a presidential candidate's position on the matter irrelevant as far as policy is concerned (Cruz's proposed constitutional amendment has no chance). The gay friendly folks supporting Bush are likely hoping a more positive response to the ruling compared to Cruz's plans will bring in those all-important millennial votes, and maybe put him on the radar of independent voters and even some Democrats, should he land the nomination.
Bush will be speaking at CPAC on Friday. The Washington Times reports some Tea Party-oriented attendees are planning a walkout, apparently over his positions supporting Common Core and immigration fixes.