GOP hopeful Fred Karger sits down with Dartbeat

By Madison Pauly | 1/6/12 3:49pm

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Madison Pauly / The Dartmouth

Former Reagan political consultant Fred Karger, the first openly gay presidential candidate in history, visited the campus this Friday to promote his campaign among students.

Karger, whose grandfather attended Dartmouth, has visited the school 15 times since February 2010 and described it as “a coming home experience.” Dartbeat caught up with him in the Dartmouth Co-op to discuss his campaign, the values of the Republican Party and his policy priorities as a presidential candidate.

Dartbeat: One of the most controversial campaign strategies we’ve seen thus far was Rick Perry’s anti-gay ad [see below] in Iowa. Do you have a response to the trend in Republican politics toward lambasting gays in order to score political points with rightist voters?

Karger: “I’m very upset with those activities. Those words are damaging to so many people. I did a reaction to his spot, a parody ad [see below]. I said I [as Rick Perry] was ashamed, that my ad now has the record of the most dislikes on YouTube and I’m not proud of that.

When I announced my consideration in running for President in 2010 in New Orleans at a press conference one of the primary reasons I was doing this was to try to calm down the anti-gay rhetoric in the Republican party. I said if I was on the debate stage then that would be a primary goal of mine. If I’m there, I think it would be less anti-gay. That’s why I did this.

I have a commercial and over a hundred time-buys this week. “Fed up with the Republican Party? There’s one Republican you might like.” I talk about these issues, and I say that I’m a moderate.

All these others you will never ever hear them other than lambasting other Republicans. I don’t believe in lambasting conservatives, and that’s what I learned from Reagan. Let’s work together, let’s cooperate, let’s see what we have in common, and let’s solve the problems of the country. I’m very proud of this.

Dartbeat: Taking into account your progressive social policies, why do you identify with Republican Party?

Karger: That’s an excellent question. The Republican Party used to be the leader in that [socially progressive politics], and the Democrats were not. 100 years ago, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, the last progressive Republican President, he was a leader in civil rights, he desegregated his administration for the first time, there were blacks working in his administration, all of whom were fired by Woodrow Wilson, who succeeded him, a Democrat. He had the first Afro American over the White House for dinner—Booker T. Washington.

Then the Republican Party’s moved slowly over to the right. A lot of it was because a couple of the Democrats from the South – Strom Thurmond, others came over. They thought the Democratic Party was too liberal and they moved the Republican Party to the right.

So I want to bring that caring, civil-rights leading Republican Party back. I even call myself a Rockefeller Republican—I worked for him in his two presidential campaigns in ‘64 and ‘68—and he really helped lead that charge.

Dartbeat: In your opinion, what are the most important short- and long-term issues America needs to focus on today?

In the short-term, jobs and the economy.

That is my major gripe with President Obama. He had said repeatedly in his campaign for years ago he was going to do nothing but work on the economy for the first two years and instead he spent about two weeks. He passed the stimulus and then he went off to health care and a whole array of other issues. Had he devoted—and succeeded—in turning the economy around then he could do many other things. So I really want to focus on that.

I have a seven point “Jobs Now” plan—I don’t want to wait until even I’m elected, I want to start talking these things, setting up a trust for microloans for graduating students who are out of work.

Long term—education reform. If we were not in such trouble with our employment and just the morale in this country—because another important thing in the short term is bringing back that American spirit in this country—education reform to compete with the other countries of the world is essential. We have lagged so far behind now. It’s a monumental job, because it’s such a major operation.

One of the things I want to do is tackle the two national teachers unions. I think there’s too much power there, too much control in keeping teachers who are not effective. One of the jobs as a union is to protect the jobs of the union members, and I think it’s at the peril of new teachers. They don’t have to be younger, but bringing in new blood, and effective, exciting teachers who will make school interesting is essential.

I want to make school more interactive with the private sector. And I’ve talked about partnering with the inner city schools, that are in the worst shape and are losing more drop outs.

Dartbeat: What is your campaign strategy so far and what are your hopes for its future? (Particularly in the light of today’s poll showing you tied with Rick Perry in New Hampshire.)

Karger: I’m not on the debates yet but I hope I will be. I was tied with Santorum and Bachmann last week. Now he’s got a little boost, but I’m still with her and Perry, and they’ve been in 12 debates. They’ve spent 30 million dollars, and I’ve spent a fraction of that, so I’m very encouraged.

There are two debates this weekend, and I haven’t been invited to either, which is typical, but I will be heading to Michigan next Thursday. By the time the Michigan primary occurs, there will have been South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada.

Unless Romney wins them all and runs away with this, the battle will continue as they normally do and Michigan will be very big battleground state. It’s a much more moderate state, much like NH. Some of these [candidates] are going to be missing, and I think once it is down to three or four people the networks will be much more obligated to put me in a debate.

Dartbeat: Do you believe you have a shot at the nomination?

Karger: I really do. I’ve always said I’m a long shot, I’m not one of these people who’s delusional in saying I’m going to win this. I realize it’s my first time ever running for office, and it usually takes candidates at least two times to get there but I’m hopeful that if I get in a debate I will break out… anything’s possible.

I could be the flavor of the week, and I’m very ready for it now. I’ve been at this a long time and I think I’m ready for prime time.

Madison Pauly