Election Commentary

Trump’s outreach for LGBTQ votes isn’t just offensive. It’s a sign of desperation.

Donald Trump said that he would be
Donald Trump said that he would be "better for the gay community" during the campaign, but his Justice Department is arguing against progress in LGBT rights made during the Obama Administration.Photo: Associated Press

Several times during the final stretch of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s braintrust has felt the need to tell LGBTQ voters–well, at least lesbian and gay voters–that the president is really, really on their side. Just this week, First Lady Melania Trump recorded a video for the Log Cabin Republicans in which she professed shock that “powerful people have tried to paint my husband as anti-gay.”

Earlier in the month, Tiffany Trump, daughter of Trump’s second wife, told a deeply weird “Trump pride” gathering that “my father has always supported you. OK?” And in September, Trump retweeted an unscientific poll from a hookup app that gave him 45% of the gay vote, adding “Great!”

Related: Voting deadlines, registration & what’s at stake for LGBTQ voters in 2020

The Trump presidency has always relied upon the idea that people should believe him and not their lying eyes. Any claims that Trump is pro-LGBTQ predictably prompt outrage because of his vile record. Then there’s the other guy on the ticket, Vice President Mike Pence, whom even Trump jokes wants to “hang” gay people. 

But the campaign’s lies about Trump aren’t just another sign of its alternate reality. It’s a sign of desperation.

At this stage in the election cycle, Trump is behind, often significantly, in the battleground states that were crucial to his 2016 victory. He is down by almost nine points in Wisconsin, five points in Pennsylvania, and nearly nine points in Michigan. He’s performing historically poorly in such GOP strongholds as Georgia, Texas, and Iowa.

Trump needs every vote that he can scrounge up. (At the same time, he’s turbocharging the Republican’s vote suppression strategy.) He needs to peel off as many votes from Biden as he can. That means the tactical equivalent of throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, including outreach to gay and lesbian voters. (Even Trump’s campaign seems to know better than to try to court trans voters.)

Trump’s campaign can have no reasonable expectation that it’s going to win a significant portion of the estimated 9 million LGBTQ voters. He only won 14 percent of the LGBTQ vote in 2016, and there’s little reason to think that his track record is going to boost that number now.

Moreover, while LGBTQ voters are obviously everywhere, they are likely to be over-represented in states with large urban areas, states that are more likely to be blue to begin with. Gay Trump supporters in West Hollywood are not going to hand California’s 55 electoral votes to their candidate.

The final proof that the outreach effort is just for show is the lack of campaign machinery around a get-out-the-vote effort. The Biden campaign has a massive effort specifically targeting the LGBTQ vote, headed by Reggie Greer.  The Trump campaign is relying upon the Log Cabin Republicans, a group best described as forgotten but not gone.

As with so much else in the Trump world, its outreach to gay and lesbian voters is haphazard, amateurish, and based on lies. If the president’s reelection hopes depend upon winning a few more LGBTQ voters this time, he better have a backup plan.

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