If pollsters’ predictions hold, and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul come out on top in Iowa, the Republican primary will boast two front-runners who’ve been pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen. Gingrich got off easy, years ago, with an irritating Ali G encounter. (“Ain’t there a problem,” Cohen asked in character, “that if there is a woman president, they’re gonna spend all their time on facials?”) Paul met with Cohen when he was disguised as the very gay, very Austrian fashion reporter Brüno, shooting his 2009 movie.* It didn’t go so well.
The congressman got to the meeting place—a dark hotel room that could have been decorated by Sasha Grey—and started to answer a question about who designed his suit. The lights blew out. Brüno invited Paul to a bedroom, where the congressman tried to distract himself as his host offered strawberries and grinded his hips to dance music. Then Brüno dropped his pants. Paul, already pacing, barreled past him and yelled “Get out of here!” A camera captured Paul ranting as he fled the hotel. “That guy is queerer than the blazes,” he said. “He took his clothes off. He’s queer, he’s crazy, he put a hit on me, he took his clothes off.”
The “news of the weird” follow-up coverage came, and Paul rolled with it. When Curtis Sliwa asked about the incident on his radio show, Paul worried that he’d gone a little soft, imagining what one of his supporters would have wanted him to do. “Why in the world,” he asked, “didn’t I sock this guy in the nose?” He was punk’d by let’s-make-fun-of-the-old-guy humor. Nobody seemed particularly bothered that a once and future presidential candidate was fuming about a come-on from a “queer.”
That was in 2009. In 2011, the press has discovered—for the third time—the newsletters Paul sold in the years between his failed 1984 Senate bid and his congressional comeback in 1996. They reveal Paul (or his ghostwriter) to be a scared cynic with paranoid thoughts about blacks, gays, and Israel. The comments about black men—including their supposed “criminal” tendencies—have attracted wide attention. But the newsletters were often just as vitriolic about gay people, saying they were “far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” A “gay lobby” suppressed the truth about AIDS, the newsletters claimed. “I miss the closet,” groaned Paul-or-his-ghost.
Republicans aren’t supposed to survive comments like that. Gay activists have “glitter-bombed” Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, showering them with sparkles to shame them for their anti-gay rights stances. After Rick Santorum compared gay sex to “man on dog” sex, Dan Savage told fans to Google-bomb “Santorum,” propagating the idea that it’s a Latin-sounding word for “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.” That was six years ago. Santorum still gets humiliating questions about it.
Nobody grills Paul about this stuff. When I asked Savage about the ugly comments in old Paul Survival Reports, he shrugged them off. “Ron Paul can have the closet,” he said. “He might miss it, but we sure don't. Maybe there's room in there for his old newsletters?”
There is no comparing Paul and Santorum, said Savage, because Paul is a leave-us-alone libertarian. “Ron is older than my father, far less toxic than Santorum, and, as he isn't beloved of religious conservatives, he isn't out there stoking the hatreds of our social and political enemies,” he explained. “And Ron may not like gay people, and may not want to hang out with us or use our toilets, but he's content to leave us the fuck alone and recognizes that gay citizens are entitled to the same rights as all other citizens. Santorum, on the other hand, believes that his bigotry must be given the force of law. That's an important difference.”
That’s more or less what Paul and his campaign say about all of the newsletters. The man’s been in public office, on and off, since 1976. Where’s the anti-gay record? In 2004, Paul was one of only 27 House Republicans who voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. In 2010, he flipped from a “no” to a “yes” on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “I have received several calls and visits from constituents who, in spite of the heavy investment in their training, have been forced out of the military simply because they were discovered to be homosexual," he explained. “To me, this seems like an awful waste.” He’s worked alongside gay libertarians before. Would-be social conservative kingmakers say they can’t back Paul because his federalism would let gay rights flower in the states. “Sometimes,” Iowa FAMiLY Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats said this month, “his libertarian views trump his moral compass.”