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News analysis: Gay libertarian candidate pilloried as 'orthodox Republican' by national commentators

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 2:28 p.m. MDT

Two major Republicans are vying for the San Diego mayor job, and the San Diego Republican Party chose to endorse Carl DeMaio, a member of the San Diego City Council, over Nathan Fletcher, a state assemblyman. On Thursday, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that the San Diego GOP moved “sharply to the right” and endorsed the “more orthodox conservative”

Over at Huffington Post, long-time California political analyst William Bradley picked up the same theme on the same day, telling us that the San Diego Republican party has “moved further to the right, with its endorsed candidate, San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, helping lead the way.”

Other news outlets have picked up the theme. A local radio station blogs that Fletcher "has previously set himself apart from other members of the GOP by supporting gay rights measures and working with Gov. Jerry Brown on tax issues.”

So we have yet another case of Republican hard liners rejecting change, doubling down on stodgy conservatives who can’t win tough elections.

But something is wrong with this picture. Carl DeMaio is openly gay, while Fletcher is decidedly heterosexual. And DeMaio is not an orthodox conservative on fiscal issues either. If anything, he is a libertarian, having worked as a policy analyst for the libertarian Reason Public Policy Institute in the early 2000s.

And it doesn’t even work to pigeonhole DeMaio as a libertarian. Among his RPPI work product is a report on management at the Environmental Protection Agency co-authored by some of the best bi-partisan voices in that policy arena, including Debra Knopman at the Progressive Policy Institute. DeMaio has evidently moved at a high level in some bipartisan circles.

So why did Brooks and Burns weigh in heavily for Fletcher? This is the question posed by Virginia Postrel, a former editor of Reason magazine and a broadly libertarian thinker— no orthodox Republican.

Brooks seemed to rely heavily on a San Diego writer named Scott Lewis who argued that the “Republican Party has gone through a fantastically effective effort to enforce conformity around its principles.”

But if you follow Lewis one link further you find that when Fletcher was still vying for the GOP nod, he wrote a blog post with strong code language designed to appeal to orthodox conservatives and draw attention to DeMaio’s unconventionality. "Family values are very important to me,” he wrote, adding “As a Christian of strong faith, I take seriously my commitment to God." In the same post, he attacked DeMaio on this front, “I know from conversations with many of you that Carl Demaio tells you he will never advocate or push social issues related to sexual orientation. However, this doesn’t square with the statements and commitments he makes in other communities.”

We are, in fact, facing a fascinating historical moment in the redefinition of party alignments, and Brooks and Bradley are both right to be attuned to it. But how they oversimplified the picture this situation so dramatically is a puzzle. Were they cleverly played by Fletcher allies? Do they actually think that a gay Republican with libertarian leanings represents a lurch to the right, an enforcement of conformity, and a return to orthodoxy?

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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