Ken Mehlman, who managed George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, is explicitly apologizing to the people hurt by the anti-gay marriage tone of the campaign. It's not the first time he's walked back his party's rhetoric.
"At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort," Mehlman told Salon's Thomas Schaller. "As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved. I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry." Backing gay marriage increasingly "is a net positive for winning elections."
Mehlman came out as gay in 2010 and told The Atlantic he regretted not pushing back against the party's anti-gay rhetoric. He's not the only alum of the 2004 Republican presidential campaign who has publicly departed from its anti-gay marriage position. So has former Vice President Dick Cheney, who lobbied Republican lawmakers in Maryland this year to legalize gay marriage. Bush's daughter Barbara supports gay marriage, too. But this isn't Mehlman's first apology for the Republican Party's social issues tactics. In 2005, when he was chair of the Republican National Committee, he apologized on behalf of the party for its Southern strategy -- playing on white racism to break Democrats' control on the South. (This time, it appears he's only apologizing for himself.) According to USA Today's Richard Benedetto, Mehlman told the NAACP, "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization... I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."
What can Mehlman apologize for next? If you're solely looking for an issue that might be a "net positive for winning elections," he couldn't go wrong with apologizing to Latinos. Many Republican officials have complained that the 2012 Republican presidential primary has taken a sharply anti-immigrant tone. Alienating Latinos spells electoral doom. “If the Republican nominee in 2020 gets the same percentage of African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American votes that Sen. McCain got, the Democrat will win by 14 points,” former RNC chair Ed Gillespie told Politico.