In Fred Karger's Presidential Run, GOP Stands for Gay Old Party

The OC resident and onetime Republican hatchet man hopes his quixotic campaign can push his party to become more gay-friendly

Yet no rotten eggs are lobbed at him.

Barr raises his glass of red wine and says, "Hear! Hear! Standing for maximum individual freedom!"

Members of the audience stand, raise their glasses for the toast and enthusiastically bark, "Hear! Hear!"

Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger doesn't mind self-deprecation in his march to become the first openly gay U.S. president
Mark Graham
Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger doesn't mind self-deprecation in his march to become the first openly gay U.S. president
The candidate catches a Frisbee toss from a reporter in a Dallas hotel
Mark Graham
The candidate catches a Frisbee toss from a reporter in a Dallas hotel

It's an odd scene, but Barr explains his newfound conversion to pro-gay-rights advocate. "My views have evolved over time—especially since 9/11," he says. "Government is reaching out to control every aspect of our lives. The sphere of liberty has shrunk."

He praises LCR for teaching the Republican Party "lessons about liberty."

"To license is to control," he continues. "This brings us to the essential question when discussing whether same-sex marriage should be legal: Why do individuals need the government's permission to marry in the first place?"

Though a semi-bored Karger spends most of the speech answering emails on his cell phone, Barr wins a standing ovation. Several gay Republicans circle him to shake his hand. But one nearby person isn't satisfied.

"He didn't apologize for DOMA," says Ashburn. "He should have said he is sorry. Why didn't he? He blew it."

*     *     *

Christopher Buckley's satirical 1995 novel, Thank You for Smoking, spoofs the adventures of the tobacco industry's top PR flack, who has a reputation as a "Gucci Goebbels" for shamelessly arguing that scientific evidence proves there is no link between cancer and smoking cigarettes.

Karger has read the book, thought it was "funny," but denies that his real life as a Philip Morris PR flack fighting anti-smoking laws served as inspiration for Buckley's main character, Nick Naylor. He does, however, admit, "That was my life for a while. Buckley nailed it."

He'd rather discuss Al Franken's 2000 novel Why Not Me? "It is absolutely hysterical," says Karger. "It's about a single-issue candidate who beats Al Gore and becomes president. He won because all he talked about was high ATM fees.

"As funny as the book is, it's reality in politics." he stresses. "In politics, you can be quickly propelled to the top on a single issue. A message can catch on, and then, who knows? Franken's book planted the seed for my campaign for president."

*     *     *

Along with the right-wing groups and the Log Cabin Republicans, the Hilton Anatole is also hosting U.S. Marines returning from active duty in Afghanistan. The Marines are given free rest and relaxation with their wives or girlfriends as a transition back to society. Their severe haircuts, buff physiques and unyielding scowls can be seen all over the hotel.

Late one night in a hotel bar, Marines thought they'd been hit on by a group of LCR members sitting at another table. According to multiple witnesses, one of the Marines walked over to the gay group and asked, "Are you guys a bunch of faggots?" The LCR members corrected the slur, saying they were "gay." Before Dallas police arrived, the soldier became violent and left one gay Republican injured.

"We're so pro-military as Log Cabin members," concludes a group official who asked not to be named. "But obviously, some soldiers can't handle the idea that gay people are just as entitled to sit freely in public as they are."

*     *     *

Violence against gays remains an ugly reality, but Karger uses bigotry as motivation. "Just because I am a stubborn guy, that [conduct] gives me more fortitude to do what I'm doing," he says.

He has vocally battled the Mormon church and the National Organization for Marriage for anti-gay stances, and he has dedicated his campaign to young gays who have committed suicide after they've been bullied. Yet, even when making serious remarks, Karger invariably incorporates optimism: "There is hope out there."

During an LCR speech, he shares a secret he learned as an operative for presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, as well as California Governor George Deukmejian. He explains how to convert enemies into friends. "Put them at ease," he says. "Make them feel comfortable. Tell them a funny story, and watch their body language relax."

Karger proceeds with a funny story of his own. He's at the 2004 RNC presidential convention in New York. On the night Vice President Dick Cheney is to be renominated, he sees Scott Schmidt, a young Log Cabin Republican from Los Angeles. Schmidt has caused a ruckus among other "very formal" Republicans.

Says Karger, "Scott's walking around wearing a shirt that says, 'I like dick.'"

LCR members hoot and clap in appreciation. Schmidt, who is also attending the convention, later makes a correction. "My shirt said, 'I heart Dick,'" he says. "That's with a capital D."

Big D or little d, Karger doesn't care. He's a gay Republican on a mission. He sees himself as a front-line soldier confronting homophobia in the party he loves.

"We need to stand up and be proud in a tough atmosphere," he says. "There's a lot of hostility out there."

In typical Karger fashion, he cracks a warm smile and adds, "We have to work hard for our dreams, but I'm so excited!"

This article appeared in print as "Gay Old Party? OC's own Fred Karger, a onetime Republican hatchet man, is out of the closet and on the campaign trail for president."

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