DETROIT — Mitt Romney had barely finished conceding defeat in last November’s presidential election when a parade of Republican wise men began trooping before the cameras.
“We need to broaden the base,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said, as votes from the far West continued to swell President Obama’s victory margin.
Jon Huntsman, the Utah governor who made a brief try for the GOP nomination, was even more emphatic. “We have to go after lost demographics,“ he added, meaning mostly women and minorities.
In the months since, everyone from Karl Rove to Peggy Noonan has echoed that theme in speeches, columns, and books.
Except, perhaps, in Michigan.
Last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Dave Agema, Michigan Republican national committeeman, started an oral and written argument of his own.
He posted a hate-filled rant against gay people on Facebook. Supposedly written by a mysterious physician named Frank Joseph, the rant, under the title “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals,” mainly consists of smears based on other anti-gay tracts.
Some of its statistics are plainly absurd, such as its contention that “homosexuals account for half the murders in large cities.”
The author also claims that half of all lesbians are dead by age 45, that four-fifths of gay people are riddled with sexually transmitted diseases, and that because gay men and lesbians “cannot reproduce naturally, they resort to recruiting children … chanting: ‘Ten percent is not enough. Recruit, recruit, recruit.’ ”
The diatribe immediately caused an uproar in state political circles — and a shrug from Mr. Agema, a former airline pilot. That none of these claims is remotely true didn’t seem to bother him.
“It’s not hate — it’s facts derived from several studies,” the former Grand Rapids-based state lawmaker said, after a Lansing public relations professional posted in response that “I’m embarrassed to live in the same state as this hatemonger.”
While that posting stunned some, Mr. Agema is no stranger to controversy. Six years ago, during a budget crisis that shut down state government, he wasn’t there when the crucial vote was taken.
Instead, he was in Siberia to hunt bighorn sheep. When he returned, he took positions so far on the right that a survey of Lansing insiders ranked him the least-effective member of the Legislature.
To be sure, both parties have had their share of embarrassing lawmakers. Most of them disappeared after their terms ended. But in this case, a flood of Tea Party supporters at the GOP’s state convention elected Mr. Agema Michigan’s Republican national committeeman in May, 2012.
After he posted the controversial anti-gay article, some clearly had buyers’ remorse. Twenty-one GOP precinct delegates and young Republican leaders demanded that he resign.
“This isn’t about what we believe either politically or as women and men of faith,” they said in a statement. “This is about common decency and realizing you cannot win an election by insulting a wide swath of the electorate, whose votes our Republican Party needs to once again form a national majority.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Agema refused to quit, offering an odd defense. “Basically, I copied and pasted a piece written by another author,” he said. “A few liberal Republicans have chosen to take the words of someone else and cast them as my own,” he added.
However, he clearly indicated that the posting reflected his views. Last weekend, he sent out a mass email that belligerently proclaimed: “I will not back down. I will dig in and fight even harder to defend our conservative values from these attacks.”
Regardless of how anyone feels about these issues, Mr. Agema is not close to the mainstream. Even conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly have acknowledged that same-sex marriage is inevitable.
None of Mr. Agema’s rhetoric helps Republicans “broaden the base,” as they so desperately need to do, especially in Michigan, where they have failed to carry the state in six consecutive presidential elections.
Nationwide, polls showed gay and lesbian voters cast ballots for President Obama by a margin of 76 to 22 percent in 2012. Republicans can ill afford to lose any voters, and insulting gay people could also make it harder to win their friends and family members.
John Corvino is openly gay and head of the Department of Philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit. “I think this is a real decision point for the Republican Party,” he said.
“I think it is quite possible that LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] people will vote Republican in the future, if — and it’s a big if — the party manages to get past the idiocy that we’ve seen from folks like Agema and move in a more positive direction on both social and economic issues,” Mr. Corvino said.
So far, however, neither Gov. Rick Snyder nor any other prominent Republican has called on the national committeeman to resign.
Few have done more than quibble with some of the “facts” Mr. Agema posted. “We shall see,” Mr. Corvino said this week. Others may conclude that voters already have.
Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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