Ken Mehlman is Gay and I Don’t Care

The guy who ran George W. Bush's campaign and the Republican National Committee has realized after only 43 years that he likes dudes.

The big news overnight, judging from blogger reaction, is that former RNC chair Ken Mehlman has come out of the closet after 43 years.

Marc Ambinder (“Bush Campaign Chief and Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman: I’m Gay“):

Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.

Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.

“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”

Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush “was no homophobe.” He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called “the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.”

Mehlman’s leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities — such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (“Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…”). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.

“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”

NYT (“Former G.O.P. Leader Says He Is Gay“):

There had been speculation about his sexuality, but Mr. Mehlman had in the past denied that he was gay.

For the last few months, Mr. Mehlman has been quietly working as a strategist and fund-raiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which supports a legal challenge to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.

Mr. Mehlman was in Mr. Bush’s inner circle in both presidential campaigns and ran his campaign in 2004, when the party courted Christian conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage. But Mr. Mehlman, in his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as head of Mr. Bush’s campaign, tended to personally avoid social issues.

He was a leading figure in the Bush White House in pushing for the party to try to appeal to black and Hispanic voters.

“I and others worked very hard to expand the party to communities that had previously not been as amenable to the Republican message,” Mr. Mehlman said. “Obviously, I look back and wish I was in the place I am today and been able to do that with the gay community.”

Mr. Mehlman’s announcement makes him apparently the most prominent Republican official to come out.

Considering that Ken Mehlman’s name hasn’t crossed my mind in quite some time, I find it hard to get too terribly excited about his turn-ons.  But the revelation is just one more bit of evidence that:  1) there are a lot of very confused gays out there and 2) some of them are Republican.

Granting that being heterosexual is less complicated, given  its wide cultural acceptance, I continue to be baffled by middle aged men “realizing” that they’re gay.   Either women turn you on or they don’t.  Most of us figure that out by junior high.

UPDATE: As the day wears on, it’s becoming much murkier whether Mehlman is just now realizing he’s gay or just now willing to admit it publicly. See, for example, Michael Calderone‘s “How Ken Mehlman’s ‘open secret’ stayed hidden.”

Ken Mehlman says he only recently concluded that he’s gay. The media seems to have reached that conclusion years ago.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz is one of several journalists to quickly follow up on Mehlman’s announcement Wednesday by saying it’s been an “open secret” in Washington for years. “This is no longer really a media climate that tolerates open secrets,” wrote Politico’s Ben Smith shortly after the news broke.

But just because everyone “knows” something doesn’t mean they actually know it.

Jake Tapper, who covers the White House for ABC News, told The Upshot that “there’s a significant difference between an open secret and a widely held suspicion.”

The suspicion, rather than direct knowledge that Mehlman is gay, has been alive in elite media and political circles for more than a half decade.In 2005, Tapper penned a GQ profile of Mike Rogers, a gay activist willing to out political figures who support policies infringing upon gay rights. Rogers has long targeted Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National Committee who also ran President Bush’s re-election campaign. (More on Mehlman’s record of opposing gay rights here).

Back then, Mehlman wouldn’t deny being gay when Rogers called him, according to the GQ article. But Steve Schmidt, a friend and former Bush official, insisted to Tapper that Mehlman wasn’t gay. Later that year, “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert — a consummate insider, who likely heard similar rumors — pressed Mehlman on gay rights, and asked if he believed “homosexuality is a choice.” Mehlman said he didn’t know.

It wasn’t until May 2006 that Mehlman first answered the question, telling the Daily News that he wasn’t gay. Mehlman also joked that stories suggesting the opposite “did a number on my dating life for six months.”

Still, not everyone was convinced. Comedian Bill Maher famously outed Mehlman on CNN’s “Larry King Live” six months later.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    The irony James is that so many of them seem to participate in actively anti-gay organizations.
    Perhaps this is an artifact of last century repression and will fade, but in the meantime, I think it’s fair to say “are the Republican’s messed up or what?”
    Imagine, a national movement shaped by the identity issues of their members.

  2. James, it takes an ENORMOUS amount of courage and self-assertion to be openly gay and THAT’S what it took Ken 43 years to summon up. As a Republican and conservative, until now, being openly gay would have destroyed his career. Now Ken sees his way clear to having the unified life — that is, the ability to be open about both your social life and career — that straight people take for granted.

  3. Herb says:

    Bill Maher called it years ago.
    As to the “realizing,” I don’t buy it either.  I think he’s known since puberty, but for a number of reasons “struggled” with it.  So why admit it now?
    My guess:  New boyfriend.

  4. James Joyner says:

    James, it takes an ENORMOUS amount of courage and self-assertion to be openly gay and THAT’S what it took Ken 43 years to summon up

    I’m not questioning why it took so long for him to come out of the closet, merely his assertion that he didn’t realize he was gay until recently.  I don’t think it works that way.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m not questioning why it took so long for him to come out of the closet, merely his assertion that he didn’t realize he was gay until recently.  I don’t think it works that way.

    This is unfair, James:  I’ve finally realized I’m straight.  (My wife claims to have guessed it long ago.)

  6. tom p says:

    not me, I’m a lesbian trapped in a mans body.

  7. Michael says:

    I think that perhaps the article is to blame for some confusion. I don’t see any direct quotes from Mr. Mehlman himself stating that he only recently realized he was gay. The only relevant direct quote is, “It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life.” I think what he’s saying is that he only recently came to the right level of acceptance that he could come out of the closet, and Mr. Ambinder’s interpretation is off.

  8. John says:

    Speaking from personal experience, I didn’t consciously realize I was gay until I was about 30 or so. You can convince yourself of lots of things- I’m saving myself for marriage, I just haven’t found the right girl, porn is bad and degrading to women so that’s why it doesn’t turn me on.
    If he’s coming out to the nation today, he didn’t figure this out last week. But I’ll give him some slack and assume he didn’t know it in high school
    On the other hand, why exactly he’s announcing this now, don’t know, don’t really care.

  9. Michael says:

    Another direct quote: “Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.” So yes, he has known he was gay for a long time.

  10. Michael says:

    Ummmm – lots of guys convince themselves they’re bi for years, marry, have children, etc.  Not that there aren’t real bisexuals, but some bisexuals really ARE gay men trying to dodge the bullet.

  11. Sean says:

    Oh come on. If you’re a gay Republican and you’re afraid to come out, it’s because you believe the lefty stereotypes of Republicans. In which case, your Republican beliefs likely don’t run much deeper than a pay stub.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if Mehlman feared more for his familial and personal relationships, and found the “GOP hates gays” canard served as a useful crutch.
    I always liked what he did and said in his job as RNC chair, but blaming a political party for your own personal dysfunction is just the gutter. There’s room in the GOP tent for gays. There’s room in the GOP tent for gays who support gay marriage. There isn’t room for people who blame the GOP for stuff like this.
    I wave goodbye to him not because he’s gay and supports gay marriage. I wave goodbye because he lacks principles and a spine.
    I’m a GOPer who strongly supports exploring some form of drug legalization/decriminalization. I realize I’m in the minority in that view amongst GOPers and never have any luck convincing most other Republicans that they might be wrong and I might be right. Doesn’t mean I want to flush the whole party down the tubes because of one single issue like conservative-minded folks who happen to be gay.

  12. Vast Variety says:

    When you spend most of your life listening to friends, family, and society in general lie to you by telling you that being gay is wrong, it’s a sin, that it’s some sort of lifestyle choice, and that your going to burn in hell for eternity it confuses a person to a point that they might not truly understand why it is that the guy who’s butt they have been staring at for the last 20 minuets actually turns them on.
    When I was in my mid 20’s I was able to actually understand and accept who I really was.

  13. Dave says:

    Thanks, Cynthia, love your blog.
    It took me 57 years to summon up the self-assertion to come out.  Yeah, that’s pretty sad, and yeah, I’ve always knew that women didn’t ‘turn me on’ but there’s overwhelming pressure out there to be ‘normal’ from gay-haters like Mr Joyner.  Gays have never ruled the world, and Mr Joyner and others have until recently always thought they ought to rule our little corner of it, too.

  14. sam says:

    “gay-haters like Mr Joyner”

    You’re full of shit.

  15. sam says:

    “As I wrote last year from CPAC, when throngs of so-called conservatives lined up for Ann Coulter’s autograph moments after she referred to John Edwards as a “faggot,” “Somehow, I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan being pleased.” Yet, the modern Conservative Moment seems to be dominated by the shrill nonsense of Coulter and Jonah Goldberg[*] and Michael Savage and Neil Boortz. In short, the Conservative Movement is no longer particularly “conservative” at all.”

    JJ @

  16. WJ says:

    To Sean:  That is a good post.

  17. DonM says:

    Who cares?   Really!   What kind of person do you have to be to have any concern about another’s sexuality?

    1. On the hunt : looking for a new boyfriend/girlfriend and hope to know who is in the pool…
    2. Totalitarian; unable to leave any person private, in any manner at all…

  18. Franklin says:

    Dave- you clearly haven’t read much of this blog.  And just because somebody hasn’t been through your experiences doesn’t mean they hate you.
    I knew someone who had to be told by OTHER people that he was gay.  It finally cleared up most of the confusion he had been feeling for 25 years.  It had simply never occurred to him that he himself might be gay.  Strange but true.

  19. john personna says:

    Maybe this is a way to get rid of Steele.  Bring back Mehlman and demonstrate the new, open,  conservatism!

    Oh, check his position on gay marriage first.

  20. mantis says:

    If you’re a gay Republican and you’re afraid to come out, it’s because you believe the lefty stereotypes of Republicans.

    It’s all the lie-bruls fault!  It has nothing to do with prominent Republican politicians and other conservative leaders telling us for years and years that homosexuals are abominations, that homosexuals don’t deserve the same rights and privileges other citizens enjoy, that homosexuals are the same as pedophiles and zoophiles, how the presence of homosexuals causes God to send natural disasters our way, and on and on.  No, it’s those damned liberals fault!

    Let’s also ignore that when GOProud was allowed to sponsor CPAC, the conference was boycotted by several influential conservative groups, and even the conference organizers forbid the group from speaking at the event.  Must be the liberals fault!

  21. WJ Alden says:

    Don’t really give a crap about Mehlman’s sexuality. I’ve known I was straight since I was 5, so I find it hard to believe than any guy couldn’t know their sexuality by a pretty early age, but oh well.
    What I do care about is that Mehlman seems to be a natural liberal, and during his tenure was partly responsible for pushing the GOP to the left on a whole range of issues, from a bigger spending government to amnesty. That’s worked out so very well, for our party and for the country at large. We now have trillions more in federal debt, a trillion dollar structural deficit, the health care abomination, 12 million illegal immigrants and their children dragging down the economy, and two fresh new Marxist faces on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years or so. So for all I care he can take a long walk off a short cliff and fall straight down to hell.

  22. Tano says:

    If you’re a gay Republican and you’re afraid to come out, it’s because you believe the lefty stereotypes of Republicans.

    Oh, I see – you are saying that a man who has spent much of his career in the Republican Party – including being the chairman of the party, knows less about that party and its personalities than you do. Thats pretty ridiculous.
    You see to be one of those people, quite common on the right, who has a very narrow and restricted view of how you want the world to be, and assume that, since you want it to be a certain way – it is that way.

    blaming a political party for your own personal dysfunction is just the gutter.

    What dysfunction are you talking about? Why do you show such utter disrespect for the testimony that the man shares about what he has lived? Simply because you wish the message not to be true?

    I wave goodbye to him not because he’s gay and supports gay marriage. I wave goodbye because he lacks principles and a spine.

    It seems that his problem with the GOP was not simply that they were anti-gay marriage, but that they were actively and cynically pushing homophobic buttons in order to gin up political support.
    I don’t see any lack of principles on his part, unless you count the fact that he silently went along with those GOP tactics.

  23. wr says:

    I see him as just another evil Republican, willing to do the bidding of an administration even as it was targetting Americans for things he knew weren’t wrong, simply because that’s where the money is. Now that the teat has dried up, he’s free to come out. Just like Christie Todd Whitman, who enabled the worst polluters when she led the Bush administration EPA but chose not to because she knew where her bread was buttered. Once she was gone, she felt free to advocate for responsible environmental policy — but of course at that point it meant nothing at all.

    Mehlman spent years working to harm people just like him. How nice that he feels free to unburden himself now, when there’s no cost to him.

  24. Mike Bergsma says:

    Now I understand why we had the RNC try to get homosexual candidates to run fro Congress in South Texas.

  25. BBC says:

    Everyone’s gay for 15 minutes.

  26. floyd says:

    “”I’m not questioning why it took so long for him to come out of the closet, merely his assertion that he didn’t realize he was gay until recently.  I don’t think it works that way.””
     Perhaps this is just because it flies in the face of your false paradigm?
     Maybe his DNA shifted or his hypothalamus shrunk?
     Or maybe it’s just a life style choice and not worthy of minority status?
     As your headline reads… who cares?
    Except possibly those with a political agenda.
    Their paradigm is not likely to be any more “affected” anyway!{lol}

    Afterall “Jimmy Cracked Corn” and nobody could care less, 
    well… maybe a few “wild birds” who couldn’t muster any political support at all… not even from PETA.

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    It took me till my early thirties to realize that I was a pervert and that it was not normal, free speech for porn rallies, Amatuer movies and all that, hell I used to be totally frustrated with uptight people who did not understand getting off hedonistically as a right and a purpose to exist.

    But then I started to think, crap what a different place the world is when you think, your indoctrination seems to just fade away, and it becomes much harder to lie to yourself and others. 

    Someone like me who cares for you, cares how you feel, cares how your doing, and cares were you will end up are getting completely sick of your propaganda and hypocrisy focussed against us and everything we love and every one we also care about for trying to tell the truth as we see it, and as it appears, and as it was told.

    And how could Joiner possibly hate “Gay” people? Was gonna make a joke about  the Cowboys but im not gay so I can’t.

  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Everyone’s gay for 15 minutes.***:) or half an hour give or take a few minutes depending on what your definition gay is……coulda been the drugs, coulda been the beer, could have been the atmosphere…. Is oral sex “gay sex” er, sexual relations if your not the one doing it? lol…….

  29. Brummagem Joe says:

    Neither do I care, but Mehlman after denying (er, does this involve telling porkies?) he was gay for years now fesses up. As if anyone didn’t know. The integrity problem arises not from the porkies, but from the fact that for years he took the lead in a party that has urged and practised discrimination against gay men and women. So he’s a  hypocrite. And I have to agree with Jim, by the age of 15 latest you’ve usually figured out if girls are a turn on.    

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Everyone’s gay for 15 minutes.”

    Really. At the risk of being portrayed as self hating heterosexual I think I can say I’ve never been gay for one minute let alone 15. Perhaps some scientific evidence to back up this extraordinary claim?  

  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    “for pushing the GOP to the left on a whole range of issues, from a bigger spending government to amnesty.”

    Really. Huge tax breaks for the wealthy, lax regulation of key sectors of the economy, starting a couple of wars are leftwing policies. Perhaps you should become a democrat.  

  32. AT90064 says:

    The MSM reporting on this and, it seems, Mehlman’s comments rest on the repugnant false premeise that Republicans, exclusively, are anti-gay.  The DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell are Democrat policies.  Prop. 8 in California passed with over 150% of the votes that McCain/Palin received.  A poll conducted at the 2008 RNC in Minneapolis found that just over 50% of the attendees of the convention approved of gay marriage.  Our Democrat president opposes gay-marriage in favor of gay cvil-unions.  Any inference, let alone an outright statement, that Republicans are anti-gay is a lie.  A significant number of Democrats oppose gay-marriage so, if opposition makes Republicans “anti-gay”, it makes Democrats “anti-gay” as well.  Furthermore, the Demcorats have had a liberal president and a super-majority in Congress for 18 months and they have not repealed DOMA or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  This of a kind with the tactic tofalsely call conservatives racists and it is just as big a lie.  Republicans aren’t “anti-gay” and there are plenty of people who vote Democrat who think homosexuality is an abomination.

    No one cares that Mehlman is gay and it isn’t even newsworthy because people speculated about his sexuality years ago when he ran the RNC.  This is just another attempt to slander REpublicans with a non-story based on a false premise.  

  33. john personna says:

    I had to stop being a Republican … when they showed me the secret handshake.

  34. sam says:

    “Really. At the risk of being portrayed as self hating heterosexual I think I can say I’ve never been gay for one minute let alone 15. Perhaps some scientific evidence to back up this extraordinary claim? ”
    I think he was just riffing on Andy Warhol’s ” In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

  35. Brian Knapp says:

    <em>gay-haters like Mr Joyner</em>

    How did you get there from James’s post?

  36. anjin-san says:

    I’ve known I was straight since I was 5,
    Judging by your anger level, it’s a reasonably safe assumption that you have not had much luck with women in all that time…

  37. sam says:

    “Afterall “Jimmy Cracked Corn” and nobody could care less,
    well… maybe a few “wild birds” who couldn’t muster any political support at all… not even from PETA.”
    Anybody know wtf this means?

  38. floyd says:

    Sam ;
     Although you often claim a lack of reading comprehension , feigned or otherwise, I will explain for your elucidation….

    Where there is no political agenda, there is a complete lack of concern.