Anti-equality religious-right activists were angry when the Republican National Committee announced earlier this month the formation of an “RNC Pride Coalition” in partnership with the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization representing LGBTQ Republicans and their allies. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins responded by demanding that RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel step down and telling religious-right activists to stop donating to the RNC. Perkins continued his anti-McDaniel campaign this week after she held a conference call meant to reassure conservative activists of the party’s commitment to their values.
The Pride Coalition, intended to build support for GOP candidates among conservative LGBTQ voters in the 2022 elections, was launched at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort at a Nov. 6 event attended by Trump and former first lady Melania Trump, who received an award from Log Cabin Republicans, as did McDaniel. Unlike McDaniel, however, the Trumps avoided the wrath of religious-right activists.
After enduring a week of criticism from Perkins and other right-wing leaders, McDaniel hosted a brief, take-no-questions conference call Monday afternoon in which she defended the partnership with Log Cabin Republicans, assured angry conservative activists that there was no intention to change the party’s core values or its anti-equality platform, and apologized for a lack of communication about the plan.
After the call, McDaniel told participants by email that she did not take questions because she believed members of the media were on the call. She included a list of talking points noting that the Trump 2020 campaign had its own “Trump Pride” coalition. “We are actively committed to fighting the radical left on culture issues and standing up for religious liberty, family values, and Republicans of faith,” she wrote, adding, “We would never, ever organize or communicate with organizations that undermine our values. You have my word on that.”
Perkins responded by openly mocking McDaniel’s call and questioning her truthfulness. On Tuesday, Perkins released a “Washington Watch” video in which he recounted McDaniel’s assurance that the outreach program would not affect the party’s policies or platform, adding, “Are we supposed to believe that?”
Joining Perkins to complain about the initiative was Chad Connelly, former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party and former director of faith outreach at the RNC. Connelly, who currently runs a group called Faith Wins, told Perkins that he had “pastors all over the country calling me” to ask what was going on, adding, “As Christians, you and I have our feelings about how detrimental this is, what a dangerous move it is, and let’s face it, politically, just a couple weeks ago in Virginia, a lot of the extremist LGBT ideas are exactly why the Democrats lost so big in the state of Virginia.”
Perkins picked up on the Virginia reference, saying that anger about “gender confusion policies” and “gender pronoun policies” had motivated conservative voters there. He suggested that the Pride initiative meant that the door at the RNC would be open to groups that advocate those policies. Connelly agreed, saying, “That door has been opened by the chairlady’s actions.”
“Maybe she’ll hire Terry McAuliffe as well,” snarked Perkins about the defeated Democratic candidate for Virginia governor. Perkins did not, however, note or complain about Gov-elect Glenn Youngkin touting the Log Cabin Republicans’ endorsement.)
On Wednesday, Perkins continued his outrage campaign against McDaniel, writing in his email newsletter, “You’ve Gotta Fight for the Right in the Party.” He slammed her for “what can only be called selfish ignorance.” Perkins quoted from his interview with Connelly the day before and cited other angry activists, including Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, who put out a statement on Monday slamming “identity politics,” declaring, “We do not believe building GOP versions of Left-wing movements further our cause and do not support this move by the Republican National Committee.”
Perkins’ performative outrage about the Pride coalition has been more selective than courageous. He is waging a public war against McDaniel but is silent about Trump’s participation in the event. Taking shots at McDaniel and LGBTQ people appears to be a calculated move: Why risk angering Perkins’ Trump-adoring supporters?
One right-wing activist who did criticize Trump for hosting the event was blogger Matt Walsh, who tweeted on Nov. 8, “Trump hosted and attended an event over the weekend where the GOP unveiled its new ‘RNC Pride Coalition.’ If the Republican Party is going to fully embrace leftist sexual identity politics, then it officially serves no purpose.”
Trump-boosting Pastor Robert Jeffress weighed in with a warning for the GOP: “Having evangelical support doesn’t always guarantee you’re going to win, but not having it always guarantees you’ll lose.”
Other religious-right activists calling for McDaniel’s departure or amplifying evangelical complaints about the Pride coalition include the American Family Association’s Rob Chambers, anti-LGBTQ extremist Peter LaBarbera and former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis, who claimed that conservatives must base policies on “objective moral truth.”
Perkins’ campaign against the RNC Pride Coalition continues the Family Research Council’s long and ugly record of hostility to LGBTQ legal equality. The group’s habit of spreading lies about LGBTQ people earned it a designation as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.