Conservative media figures that embody messages of misogyny and hate will take center stage at a GOP candidate forum in Iowa, despite the party's own acknowledgment that future electoral victories hinge upon the development of a more tolerant platform.
After Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee drafted a series of recommendations on how to evolve and grow the party into a force that can win consistently in the 21st century. To a large extent, the plan recommended reaching out to women and minorities, after Democrats won both groups by healthy margins that year. The RNC report recommended "developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women." It went on to suggest that the party needs "to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too."
But in a move that seems in total opposition to those recommendations, the Iowa Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, as well as Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have chosen to partner with Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, radio host Steve Deace, and The Family Leader, an anti-gay organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats, to conduct a forum for the candidates on April 25.
Despite his role as "moderator" for the event, Erickson's far-right views on women and minorities are anything but moderate. Erickson has argued that businesses that serve gay couples are "aiding and abetting" sin, that proposed anti-discrimination laws are part of a war on Christians waged by "evil" gay rights activists, and that marriage equality is akin to incest. According to the pundit, gay people are definitely "on the road to hell."
In fact, Erickson is scheduled to appear at an event for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on the night before the candidate forum. The ADF, whose work has been touted by Erickson, is an extreme anti-gay organization working to criminalize homosexuality. The event is billed as "An Evening with Erick Erickson," making him a de facto spokesman for a group whose stances are so extreme even some of Erickson's peers at Fox News have distanced themselves from them.
Erickson's relationship with women's issues is just as offensive -- he is particularly hostile to the idea that women should help support a family financially. Erickson stated on his radio show in 2013 that "some women believe they can have it all, and that's the crux of the problem," and told Fox host Lou Dobbs that the recent increase in the number of female breadwinners is "concerning and troubling." He elaborated on this point, saying, "When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role."
But it's not just Erickson. The Republican candidate forum will also feature a post-forum focus group moderated by radio host and Washington Times columnist Steve Deace.
Deace maintains strong anti-gay and anti-immigrant views. Most recently, he penned a column suggesting that President Obama and the media were using the story of Michael Sam, an openly gay NFL prospect from the University of Missouri, as an excuse to distract attention away from the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. He has also compared gay marriage to bank robbery and strongly opposes proposals like the DREAM Act that would aid longtime immigrant children in obtaining a college education.
And the forum itself is presented by The Family Leader, whose president Bob Vander Plaats has called gay people a "public health risk," likened being gay to adultery and polygamy, and is a vocal supporter of the fringe birther movement.
If right-wing hate mongers like Erickson and Deace continue to be chosen to represent the party, GOP rebranding efforts are likely doomed.