Fred Karger is the sort of person that you quite honestly have to see to believe, as on paper nothing seems to properly line up. However, I recently caught up with Mr. Karger while he was in Chicago attending a conference, and can safely confirm that Fred Karger is exactly what he claims to be.
And just what is that? He’s a Presidential candidate for the Republican Party who is both openly gay, and is actively trying to reform his party. As I told you, on paper it doesn’t sound quite right, but in person, it makes a more sense.
Karger is known among the advocates for marriage equality as a strong voice of reason, and of action. He is particularly proud of his efforts, and success, in forcing an investigation of the National Organization for Marriage, and for causing both shame and public scorn to come to the Mormon Church for its activities surrounding California’s Proposition 8. His efforts ended in the Church paying a fine for breaking the law. To pull off such acts, Karger goes it alone, working with a small staff and chasing issues on his own dime. Frankly put, Mr. Karger is a one man whirling dervish.
His Presidential campaign, which is an honest effort at the nomination, has several smaller efforts that it hopes to bring to fruition over the coming months: Take down Mitt Romney, and make his case in a televised debate.
While Karger has been somewhat stymied on the second issue, with fellow candidate Romney he is making much more progress. After running an investigation, Karger found some rather interesting irregularities in Romney’s voter registration, and he went after them. The issue took on a new level when Rachael Maddow picked up the story and had Karger onto her program after an extensive segment on what he had found.
“That was a turning point for my campaign,” Karger told PoliticusUSA. After that moment, once his efforts found a national audience, interest in his candidacy picked up.
Karger does not hold Romney in particularly high esteem. While he avoided being directly negative, the candidate did note that in his opinion, Romney is “yesterday’s news.”
In fact, to Karger the rest of the Republican field is just that: Old hat. From Karger’s viewpoint, now is the moment to open the gates and let more people not only join the Republican Party, fundamentally wresting control of the GOP from the hands of the social conservatives. He wants to make it a “big tent” organization once again, not one that is vehemently exclusive.
Karger calls himself an “independent” Republican, and he embodies the moniker. He told PoliticusUSA that his status as both unmarried and childless allow him flexibility on the campaign trail that is nearly unrivaled. “I don’t know how [the other candidates with families] do it,” he joked. Karger also keeps his own counsel, and does not have on his staff consultants to help him shape his message. As his campaign is his message, it would be odd for him to hire outside help to help design it.
Looking at the Republican party of today, with its ridiculous pledges and forced ideological purity, it’s hard to see Karger’s vision of a party that has a wholly different makeup coming to fruition. When asked why he was a Republican at all, Karger was plain: “I’ve been a Republican all my life, it’s my party.” That loyalty seems to form the crux of why Karger is dedicated to changing the GOP: To him, this is his house, and he intends to clean it.
Even though on social issues Karger is more in line with the average Democrat than GOP member, he does agree with the Republican Party on other issues, and speaks fondly of his time working for Ronald Reagan. He’s a Republican, just not the kind that you are accustomed to seeing, but that might be just the tonic that we have been waiting for.
There have been cracks in the socially conservative levee that has been built around the Republican Party, and light is shining through. Recently, GOProud showed up at CPAC. Laura Bush, and both Cindy and Meagan McCain support gay marriage, and the RNC has recently appointed prominent gay Republican to its finance committee.
You almost want to wonder if there is a change in air.
If there is, Karger is determined to be at the forefront of it, just as he has been busily being ‘first’ this entire campaign cycle. He was the first to file, the first to announce, and so forth. Those acts could be construed as publicity stunts, and they likely were, but Karger seems to be leaning forward into the job of a candidate, and relishing it.
And while Karger’s campaign does not have a fraction of the fundraising power that Romney or Bachmann can command, he made it plain that he has more than enough money in the bank to continue his efforts until the end. “Once others drop out, it will be me and Romney on stage,” he said dryly.
For now, Karger is not likely to cause overnight change in the Republican Party, but he certainly is turning heads, and that’s a start for his mission. In fact, Karger claims that the Republican Party has been nothing but accommodating to his candidacy. “They rolled out the red carpet,” he said, recounting when he met current RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
For the time being, Karger will continue to visit battleground states, talk to anyone who will listen, and fundraise as much as possible to continue making the biggest splash that he can. He still has both eyes on his main goal: To receive an invite into a televised Republican debate. It’s almost a humorous vision: Romney, Bachmann, and Karger all on stage together, trying to get along. The fireworks alone would be worth tuning in to see.
But Karger’s tenacious stance as a Republican certainly limits his ability to be elected to office. If he registered as a Democrat, there is little doubt that he could be voted into any variety of roles in his home of California, but he won’t have any of it. Perhaps it’s his decades of experience in the trenches as a Republican operative, but Karger’s blood will never run blue.
Karger does have a politician’s ease with conversation, and ability to remember faces, dates, and occurrences, but you almost wonder if he could have selected a harder task: Beating the social conservatives out of the party they control.
Then again, if Karger could rein in the Republicans, and turn their politics away from the asinine, that would be good for more than just the Democratic party, it would be good the United States. And so off Karger goes, frisbees in hand, to save the party he has so faithfully served for so long. You almost want to end your conversation with him with a simple ‘good luck.’