By Lisa Keen
Most political observers seemed to score Monday night’s first presidential debate for Democrat Hillary Clinton, noting that she seemed to “get under the skin” of Republican Donald Trump. And a national poll released last Friday suggests most LGBT voters are leaning toward Clinton, in percentages fairly consistent with past voting trends.
Although LGBT issues did not come up during the 90-minute debate, Trump made reference to his well-publicized and long-standing feud with lesbian comedian Rosie O’Donnell. His remark came after Clinton repeated a frequent criticism of Trump, that he has said derogatory things about many women. Trump responded by acknowledging that he has said some “very tough things” about O’Donnell but that “I think everybody would agree that she deserves it, and nobody feels sorry for her.”
The Trump-O’Donnell feud dates back 10 years and started when O’Donnell called Trump a “snake oil salesman,” he called her a “loser,” and they traded barbs back and forth. The spat took on some political significance during a Republican primary debate last year when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his record of making derogatory comments about women, calling them “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” Trump, quipped, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
Gregory Angelo, head of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, said that “nothing” can be read into Trump’s remarks about O’Donnell Monday night. The long-standing feud, he said, “had nothing to do with (O’Donnell’s) sexual orientation.”
“I didn’t read anything into Donald Trump’s comments then or during tonight’s debate as anything resembling an anti-gay attitude,” said Angelo.
But Trump’s revival of his attacks on O’Donnell to deflect attention away from his negative comments on women generally came just days after the Human Rights Campaign criticized him for “hiring notoriously anti-LGBTQ politician” Rick Santorum and other anti-LGBT politicians to a “Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee.” Trump also last week released a second list of people he would consider naming to the U.S. Supreme Court. Among them was former Colorado Solicitor General Tim Tymkovich, who defended the state’s anti-gay Amendment 2 before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But anecdotal evidence and some data suggest many LGBT Republicans are still likely to back Trump Nov. 8. Angelo said he is seeing “a lot of enthusiasm among LGBT voters for Donald Trump.” Matthew Shuman, head of the Arizona chapter of Log Cabin, said he got two emails immediately after the debate from gay Republicans wanting to volunteer for the Trump campaign.
Both Angelo and former national Log Cabin president Rich Tafel said they have heard a number of LGBT people who supported Democrat Bernie Sanders say they might not vote for Clinton.
“I’ve had some amazing conversations with my Bernie friends. I’ve been a bit surprised by the depth of their dislike of Hillary,” said Tafel. “It is ironic that my centrist GOP friends gay and straight seem more comfortable voting for Hillary than my Bernie friends.”
The results of an NBC poll released last Friday show the LGBT vote splitting pretty much the way it always does in presidential elections – 72 percent for the Democrat, 20 percent for the Republican.
When asked to consider Clinton, Trump, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, LGBT identified voters went 63 percent to Clinton, 15 percent to Trump, 13 percent to Johnson, and 8 percent to Stein.
“An overwhelming 82 percent of LGBT registered voters said they have an unfavorable impression of Trump compared to 41 percent who said they have an unfavorable impression of Clinton,” said NBC. “Just under six in 10 said they have a favorable impression of Clinton. Only 17 percent said the same of Trump.”
Angelo said he expects the LGBT vote to be higher and noted that the NBC sample was heavily Democratic.
The survey included 1,728 self-identified LGBT people, surveyed between Sept. 5-18. Seventy percent of the registered LGBT voters surveyed said they were Democrats or leaning Democratic; 18 percent Republican or Republican-leaning; and 13 percent Independent.
Mark LaChey, chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, said he was a Sanders supporter and he “absolutely” thinks most LGBT Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.
“As a Bernie delegate to Philadelphia,” said LaChey, “I watched the change as the convention progressed where he and his delegates, LGBT and otherwise, came on board with Hillary in large part because her adoption of many of his core positions in the 2016 DNC platform.”
LaChey said he would urge LGBT voters to “do your research on the issues that matter most to you in your day-to-day life. …I trust that you will come to the conclusion that only Clinton/Kaine will promote LGBT equality in the upcoming four years.”
Lorri Jean, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said she, too, thinks most Sanders supporters will back Clinton. But, she added, “I also think there remains a significant number of young Sanders supporters who are disaffected and are supporting neither Trump nor Hillary.”
“They are attracted to Johnson because he isn’t Trump or Clinton,” said Jean, “but they do not understand that Libertarians, and Johnson himself, generally do not support many issues that are typically of great importance to young voters.”
Jean said she was struck Monday night with Trump’s “insensitivity to communities of color.”
“If he would stereotype them in the way he has,” said Jean, “it’s likely that he would do the same to LGBT people.”
Gay political columnist Richard Rosendall agreed. Noting that voting rights for African-Americans and reproductive rights for women have “been eroded and are under continual attack,” Rosendall said, “It is hard to understand why LGBT folk would think our advances are invulnerable.”
“If Trump wins, he can be expected to cater to the racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and transphobic right wing that is his base. …The Republicans are determined to erase the Obama presidency, and Barack Obama is the most pro-LGBT president in history.”
Angelo said the board of the national Log Cabin group would discuss whether to make an endorsement when it meets this weekend in Washington, D.C. Although Angelo would not discuss his own preference for a candidate, he did say he felt Trump’s performance during Monday’s debate shows “he can more than hold his own against Hillary Clinton.”
Recent polls certainly suggest Trump is holding his own against Clinton.
Openly gay election data guru Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com now calculates Clinton as having only a 55 percent chance of winning – that’s down from as much as 70 percent just a few weeks ago. Silver calculates Trump’s chances at 45 percent.
RealClearPolitics.com says its average of polls shows Clinton at 47 percent, Trump at 44 percent. Individual polls show support for the two candidates within the margin of error of each other.