presidential runs

Has Fred Karger Made Up For Career Helping Anti-Gay Republicans?

Opening the profile of Fred Karger with a note about the Wicked soundtrack playing on his car stereo? Brilliant, Washington Post! Then going into his campaign strategy (free Frisbees, free pizza, and “Fred Who?” tees, a la Jimmy Carter’s “Jimmy Who?” gimmick). The founder of Rights Equal Rights (nee Californians Against Hate), the self-described “independent Republican from Laguna Beach, California,” knows his shot at becoming America’s next president is slim. So while he has the national media’s attention, let’s talk about Fred Karger The Gay.

After spending 27 years in opposition research (i.e. digging up dirt on your clients’ opponents to destroy their campaigns), which included the presidential runs for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and battling anti-smoking campaigns, Karger at last decided to go public with his internal conflict.

But he led a double life for decades: Savvy, straight-acting strategist at work, gay man who had long-term relationships and wrote checks to LGBT causes at home. “It was hell,” Fred says. “I was so uncomfortable and so cautious. . . . I would go to gay pride parades and always look for cameras, and hide in the background. I had a fit if my picture was taken.”

These two lives didn’t unite until a couple of years after he retired at age 53. He wanted to “give back” and do something “significant,” so in 2006 he organized a local coalition to save a historic gay bar near his residence in Laguna Beach, Calif. In 2008 he formed the nonprofit Californians Against Hate to battle Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He used his opposition-research skills to launch a boycott of San Diego hotelier Doug Manchester and shame the Mormon Church for funneling cash to advance Prop 8.

[…] For years, the opposition was his candidate’s challenger or his client’s economic foe. These days, his chosen nemesis is Brian Brown, executive director for the National Organization for Marriage, which is pushing for a repeal of New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage bill now that the state house has a Republican supermajority.

But, uh oh, is that all he knows?

There is one small problem. When people ask Fred how he’d balance the budget, he smiles and steers the subject back to gay marriage and NOM and the Mormons. When people ask him how he’d fix health care, he says “I still need to look into it.” There is something refreshing — if entirely unpresidential — about his in-progress grasp of issues. After a lifetime of faking it, he’s finally not.

Most politcos follow the mantra of “fake it till you make it.” Not Fred, who’s been campaigning in America’s Most Important states (NH and IA) in hopes of raising $5 million. Is Fred’s naivety refreshingly honest? Or a scarlet letter? And for gay voters, is Fred even the type of guy you’d want to support? After all, like Ken Mehlman, Fred spent much of his career — and generated most of his earnings — playing for anti-gay Republicans. But — BUT! — insists Fred, he was still helping out the gays. Anonymously. Donating to LGBT causes. And now that he’s out and proud, does years battling the National Organization for Marriage count for anything?