Politics

Why Did the Gay Republicans Endorse Trump?

This non-gay Republican explains.

Jennifer Horn holding a mic.
Jennifer Horn at the New Hampshire GOP “First in the Nation” town hall on Jan. 23, 2016, in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Last week, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Donald Trump for president in a Washington Post op-ed. In the essay, the chairman and vice chairwoman of the advocacy group for LGBTQ Republicans credited Trump with “removing gay rights as a wedge issue from the old Republican playbook” and “taking bold actions that benefit the LGBTQ community,” such as launching a campaign to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality abroad.

This is the first time the Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed Trump; the group didn’t weigh in at all in 2016. In response to the board’s decision to get behind Trump this time around, several members of the organization have left, including Jordan Evans, the GOP’s first and only openly transgender elected official, and Robert Turner, the former president of the group’s D.C. chapter.

They’re joined by Jennifer Horn, a Log Cabin Republicans board member and former two-term chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. In her resignation letter, Horn wrote that Trump’s “regular verbal assaults against women, immigrants, elected members of Congress … and his willingness to stoke racial anger and unrest in order to advance his own political ambitions all subvert the founding principles of our great nation.” In response, a Log Cabin Republicans spokesman implied in a statement that it was a simple conflict of interest: Horn recently led the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who’s challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.

I talked to Jennifer Horn about why the group got behind Trump in spite of his anti-LGBTQ policies, what makes Trump different from his peers in the party, and why she’s still a diehard Republican. Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Do you identify as LGBTQ?

No. My husband and I have been married 28 years, and we have five children.

How did you end up on the Log Cabin Republicans board?

I joined the Log Cabin Republicans of New Hampshire as one of their co-chairs about two years ago and was at the same time recruited to join the national board. It’s something I feel very strongly about. When I was the chairman of the party up here, my last speech as I left office was essentially a call to our party to right the wrong of the language in our platform that targets one group of Americans, LGBTQ Americans, apart from all others.

What is the function of the Log Cabin Republicans, in your view?

When I joined the board, I honestly felt privileged to be invited. I’d always respected them as an organization that was essentially a civil rights organization, advocating for equality and inclusion for the LGBTQ community for 40 years. That is their core purpose, that is their mission statement: to advocate for equal rights under the law for all Americans.

How does that work in practice? I look at the Republican Party for as long as I’ve been alive, and it hasn’t seemed to me like it’s moved at all in favor of equality.

I would reject the premise or the idea that Republicans are not in favor of equality, as an entity. There’s no question that the party has been lacking in this area, and the Log Cabin Republicans have advocated in this area for 40 years. I think one of their strengths has been their independence from the party. They’re not a subcommittee of the RNC. They’re not an organization whose purpose is to advance candidates or advance campaigns. Their purpose is always just to be a voice amongst conservatives and Republicans for a more equal, more inclusive conservatism in the party. They’ve been very articulate about that. They’ve been fighting this fight for a long time, and I have tremendous respect for them.

But we’ve reached a point in our party and in this organization where the effort to have a voice in the party and be influential within the party seems to be only through the path of endorsing and supporting Donald Trump. And that is too big of a contradiction for me to stand by.

Do you think the sense is that Trump will only even take a meeting with somebody he thinks is on his side? So the Log Cabin Republicans think their endorsement is a precondition of literally any chance they have to get in his ear?

I think that there’s a sense throughout the party that Trump expects loyalty and fealty before he’s earned it. President Trump does not feel that he should have to take action or stand on principle or express support for anyone else. He sees all that as being activity and behavior that should be directed toward him.

And obviously one of my concerns is that—I think there’s some well-intentioned people on the board who were in support of this endorsement, and I think they’re ultimately going to be sorely disappointed. The best example I keep pointing everyone to is that Donald Trump as the nominee of the party in 2016 had the opportunity at that time to get the language excluding gay Americans from marriage and the language targeting the LGBTQ community removed from our platform. Had he, as the party nominee, taken the lead on that, and said on the floor that that’s what he wanted, it would have happened. It was proposed in the platform committee at convention. And instead, the president deferred to the evangelical people in his circle and evangelical organizations and took their language. He felt that was more valuable to him personally and politically, and as such, he did not take on that fight or stand on that principle. I don’t know why anyone in the Republican Party would trust or believe that he’s going to do anything different in 2020.

I would have preferred as an organization that we wait until the convention and give him a chance to prove that he is with the community, and then maybe consider an endorsement.

There’s a cynical interpretation to all of this that I’m wondering how you feel about. Some people would say that these Republicans don’t actually believe that Trump will change or stand up for them—but that it benefits some Log Cabin Republicans to support Trump for other reasons, like the tax cuts, and that makes it worth it to them.

I know that there are many Republicans who feel that, so I imagine there’s some equal percentage—regardless of orientation, I think that’s a strong feeling within the party. I would suggest the president has not even been particularly good in the fiscal arena. Donald Trump has added trillions of dollars to our debt. He really has not met the standard of the fiscal conservatives. So I disagree with that argument, regardless of who makes it.

Tell me about the group’s decision to endorse Trump this time around. How did that conversation go?

We had a process in our bylaws. We went through that process—seeking input from our national chapters, a discussion or debate of the issues within the board, and finally a vote on it. A majority voted in favor. There was no subterfuge or anything. Just a disagreement.

What about those discussions? Did they get heated?

Everyone was very respectful of each other. I was very clear about my position, others who disagreed with me were clear about theirs. There were some on the board who felt we should endorse fully and immediately. There were others [who] thought we should just hold off and endorse at some future point. And many made the argument that as an organization, they’d have more voice, more influence on policy going forward if we were more—I don’t know what the right word is—kind of more inside the party. I want to be very clear so there’s no confusion when you write this: These are good people who have fought a long time for good things. I just disagree with the way that they are trying to advance those purposes.

What are the core values that make you a Republican? You’ve been a Republican for many years, but now seem to be registering some dissatisfaction with the party. You spoke out pretty forcefully against Brett Kavanaugh, too.

I’ve never been one who believed that in order to be part of the party that you had to be in 100 percent agreement with everything that the party says or does. I’ve always sort of embraced the Ronald Reagan big-tent party idea, that anybody who wants to stand with you on any of the core principles, and work toward those and fight for those—that’s valuable, and that’s what the party should be.

I am a Republican because I believe in what I say are the core principles of the party of Lincoln. Equality for everyone. That the Bill of Rights was written for all Americans, not just a select few. I believe in fiscal conservatism, in a small, frugal government with limited intrusion into our lives. I am a pro-life Republican because I believe that every life should be protected under the Constitution. It’s a faith position for me, but it’s also a political position for me.

The first things you talked about, at least—equality for everyone, the Bill of Rights should apply to all Americans—I associate that less with the Republican Party than with the Democratic Party these days. Would you agree with that?

No, I wouldn’t agree with that. I think that that is a core Republican value, and I think that what we have seen under the current administration is a president who clearly does not embrace that as a principle. And I think that there are, there have always been, in any organization, like, I’m not sure what your position is, and I’m a little—I’m not sure what your angle or your perspective is in writing this article. I respect the fact that there are people who have different ideas about the best way to get to the endgame, to the final goal. And I’m one who has always, at least, embraced a more conservative approach.

In this particular case, what I’m involved in at this point in my life is trying to advance these values and these principles within our party. I honestly believe that the majority of people who are Republican in this country share the values that I’ve just laid out for you as being Republican.

One of the things that is so destructive about this president is that he magnifies the voices of the few, of a small group of people, and creates this impression that there is a much greater number of people who share his view of the world. He does that intentionally. He does that for the purpose of dividing and creating anger and fear amongst the small group of people that make up his base, to protect himself electorally and advance his own political and personal power. I think as a party we reject that. I would like to see more people in our party join me in the position and the public position that I’ve taken. I think as time progresses we will see more and more people start to stand up and speak up, as we have seen that happen.

I also used to think that there were more Republicans who disagreed with President Trump than agreed with him, but time and time again I’ve been proven wrong. First of all, he got elected. He was supported by the Republican Party for president and continues to be supported by the Republican Party. Even the Log Cabin Republicans, who you’d think might be the one group of Republicans who’d disagree with him, can’t even bring themselves to publicly disagree with him.

I think that is a false narrative to suggest that every human being in the country who voted for Donald Trump fully embraces Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton, to the minds of millions of Americans, was an awful candidate. And even if you separate out those people who just adamantly oppose her approach, her policy approach and her positions, you add to that the fact that she was just a bad candidate. There is a reason why Hillary Clinton was not able to connect with the voters, some voters who very traditionally voted Democrat.

But even if you just take today’s leaders of the Republican Party, and legislators in Congress or on the state level. There have been very few Republicans who have come out to say, “I oppose Donald Trump, not just in this issue but as a president.” Why haven’t there been more, if so many of them don’t agree with him?

Listen, I don’t know. I’m talking about when you talk about the millions of people who voted for Trump when you hit Election Day and it’s Trump or Hillary Clinton. I understand why there were a lot of people who held their nose and voted for Donald Trump. I did not. I wrote in a person that I believe was a principled Republican leader who would make a great president.

Who was that?

I have never said, and I’m never going to. It’s just not pertinent to anything, you know? I would suggest that in 2016 the American people were given probably the two worst choices that we’ve had in modern politics in one election. As far as Republican leaders today, I’m not going to excuse or defend any elected Republican who is unwilling to speak up to and stand up to the president. I think it is a failure in leadership. I can understand politically and logically why they are doing it, but I think that it’s wrong.

Has the Republican Party done anything else in the recent past besides nominate Donald Trump that’s made you wonder if you truly belong there, or think about taking a more vocal stance against the party itself?

I don’t question whether or not I belong in the Republican Party. I have been a Republican my entire life for the reasons that I’ve said. I have as much right to stand here and hold my ground and hold my turf as a Republican fighting for those values and those principles as anyone else does who might disagree with me or might be fighting against me. I am unwilling to be pushed out, to be intimidated, to be bullied because someone of the nature and character of Donald Trump has found a way to worm his way in and manipulate the American political system in the way that he has. I’m not going to be silenced because somebody else doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.

Are people trying to silence you?

Well, there’s been pushback for a long time. I’ve been very vocal and clear about my position on this president. The first time that Donald Trump came to New Hampshire, in April of 2011, to dip his toes in the 2012 water, I wrote an op-ed denouncing the idea of him as a Republican candidate, and laying out very clearly what I thought the consequences would be should the Republican Party embrace him or take him seriously. Apparently Mitt Romney scared him off in 2012. But I would say [that op-ed] was exactly on point. He has destroyed our credibility and our ability to effectively advocate on so many of the issues that have been important to us for so long.

It’s not just issues of equality and fairness and inclusion. It’s not just LGBTQ issues. It’s on issues of being a nation of immigrants, being a nation of a melting pot. Issues of believing that every American, equal opportunity for all Americans, that every American should have the right to engage and benefit from the American dream and the American opportunity. He’s terrible on fiscal conservatism, issues of spending. So many issues that have been so important to us as a party, that we have campaigned on and advocated for, for so many decades, he just completely abandoned. I would expect that as we get closer and closer to the election, more and more Republicans are going to start speaking up.

Politics is always a little bit of a bargaining or a balancing act, isn’t it? No one’s ever going to love 100 percent of a candidate, but sometimes you support them anyway. Like, some of the things you just mentioned—Trump’s approach to immigration, for instance—are in line with a lot of what other Republican candidates for president in 2016 were saying and have continued supporting. Where do you draw the line between Trump’s position on that and someone else’s, someone you might support?

Well, I don’t know of any other candidate ever who decided that they were going to cram children into cages and needed a federal court to tell them that you have to give kids toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap if you’re going to hold them in detention. I think that this president’s execution of his position borders on inhumane at times. And I know the argument from everyone else is “Oh, President Obama separated people at the border as well.” No other president before this president has even approached what he has done. It kills me that there are people out there who so strongly identify as Republicans who are willing to defend what borders on inhumane treatment of children.

Unless you’re a single-issue voter, there isn’t a single line. With Donald Trump—pick an issue, for god’s sake. Anyone who feels strongly about any issue will likely find something with Donald Trump that they’re going to have a problem with. For me, frankly, it started by having nothing to do with his political positions, and everything to do with the fact that he’s just an indecent person. And I don’t mean that in an uptight, morality kind of way. I just mean that in issues of decency, basic human decency, he is indecent, and he is not worthy of the office that he holds.

But then when you add to that the manner in which he executes policy, the positions that he has taken, his willingness to divide and stir anger and hatred and division along racial lines, along economic class lines, along religious lines, starting from his original attempt at a Muslim ban right up to today. He has never embraced or taken a principled position or risked anything on behalf of the LGBTQ community or any other group that has fought for inclusion or acceptance in our country.

With that in mind, and thinking about the fact that the Log Cabin Republicans did endorse him—I know that you just said that those Log Cabin Republicans are all good people. But how can you be a good person and have thrown your political and social capital behind this person who is, as you say, putting children in cages, not to mention rolling back LGBTQ protections?

Right, and we haven’t even discussed that, frankly, you and I. The endorsement from the organization referenced that the president has publicly denounced the criminalization of homosexuality in other countries. Oh, my God. Is that the lowest bar of human decency you’ve ever heard? That the president doesn’t believe that the way people are born should be criminalized? I can’t even wrap my head around that. There are so many of these issues. The transgender military ban, the recommendation from HUD, the DOJ rollbacks—there are so many issues. So I cannot, I cannot defend that. I can’t justify it. That’s why I have resigned.

I do not think that because we disagree on these issues or we disagree on the best path—I don’t think that that makes anybody bad people. I just think you cannot have this conversation without emphasizing the fact that there are literally people on this board who were part of its founding four decades ago. So regardless of any sort of political disagreement you might have with them, these are people who have fought the fight, and who have certainly earned the right to speak and be heard in whatever manner they choose to. But I can’t defend it, and I don’t agree with it.