The Gay Republican #MeToo?
I have a deep, dark confession. I’m fascinated by gay narratives in right-wing politics. It’s a history riddled with secrets, mostly carefully forgotten.
But a lid got blown off this last week as John Weaver, famed campaign strategist for John McCain and other top candidates, was accused on Twitter of being a sex “predator” on young Republican men — dangling jobs in exchange for sex.
A little history? Modern conservatism is basically a gay phenomenon.
In the era of mass media, nobody would be too eager to hear from Republicans, who were stuffy, law-and-order types. But in the early 1950s, a dynamic young journalist named William F. Buckley gave the sensibility a facelift. He launched National Review magazine, and presided over the movement for decades. He made conservatism “happen.”
Buckley was married, but often read as gay. (Gore Vidal called him “the Marie Antoinette of American politics.”) Even recently, the Republican commentator Darren J. Beattie writes: “What’s disgraceful is that Willam F. Buckley stayed in the closet his whole life, and managed to pass himself off as an aristocrat to a gullible American audience.”
With the party having moderated on the issue, many well-known Republican activists are openly gay.
In fact, as not often noted, much of the post-election foment owed to gay Republican activists—Ali Alexander heading the list.
With the election over, John Weaver’s current gig, The Lincoln Project, a group of moderate Republicans, set out to do some public shaming of Trump supporters. That invited a bit of Republican turnabout. A right-leaning journalist named Ryan Girdusky noted on Twitter:
“Maybe I should start talking about one of the founding members of the Lincoln Project offering jobs to young men in exchange for sex… his wife is probably interested”
Girdusky had been following the story for months.
He’d write that he was shown messages involving Weaver sending young Republican men sex offers and job offers, sometimes at the same time. Weaver would invite men to his hotel with the idea of discussing a job.
No one would go on the record. Shortly after Girdusky’s Twitter post, however, the young men began to speak up.
One young man named Weaver, then deleted his Tweet. Then a young journalist named Scott Stedman posted his experience with Weaver from around 2017, when he was around age 21. Weaver seemed to be a mentor, then started with flirty talk, creepily calling Stedman “my boy.”
After that, dozens of young men came forward with similar stories. Another man added: “One of my friends has even shared with me that John Weaver raped him years ago.” Girdusky went public with a story of Weaver as a “predator” — noting that “MANY prominent people” had known.
Indeed, this was a famously denied story.
Weaver rose to prominence in Texas Republican politics alongside Karl Rove. A 2004 profile of Rove in The Atlantic, details their antagonism:
“Both were emerging as leading consultants, but Weaver’s star seemed to be rising faster. The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove’s top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function.”
Weaver has denied it, and painted Rove as making a malicious “smear.” He’s had friends vouch for him, calling it a “lie.” The 2008 biography, Machiavelli’s Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove by Paul Alexander, adds:
“The denials may have succeeded in killing the story, but the rumor — or the fact that Rove had started it — would not die. It remained alive in gossip channels in political circles for years.”
Karl Rove certainly knew a little about the subject.
His father was gay, and had divorced for that reason when Rove was a teenager. But that didn’t seem to translate, publicly, into any pro-gay sympathy.
Looking over Weaver’s life, I wonder at the queer biography that likely will never be written. It would be interesting to know more about how he got into politics. As a college student at Texas A&M University in 1978, he was assigned to write a profile of a professor. Her husband, Phil Gramm, also a professor, liked the article and, as a profile of Weaver in Politico notes, Gramm offered young Weaver “a campaign job in exchange for $200 a month and free rent in the apartment above his garage.”
Weaver’s close relationship to McCain is often described, but his marriages are almost blanks. When working for McCain in 2007, he married his second wife, Angela Hession, a former Rudy Giuliani aide. Looking at photos of her, she might not be surprised if read as lesbian.
It’s striking how Weaver is often a dark presence in photos—off to the side, in shadows, seemingly inward, depressive. I wonder why that would be.
As a consultant, John Weaver was anti-gay.
When working for McCain, amusingly, Weaver named the famous “Straight Talk Express” bus tour. A 2007 report in Vanity Fair describes an event at an Iowa college when McCain is bumbling around the gay issue, not quite as hard-core on it as one might expect. “I think that gay marriage should be allowed, if there’s a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that…”
Weaver steps over to whisper in McCain’s ear, and McCain clarifies: “On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe if people want to have private ceremonies, that’s fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.”
Later taking to the role of Republican critic, Weaver poses as a voice of sexual sanity. When the New York Times interviews him in 2012, he’s bemoaning the party’s bad record on rape commentary. In 2020, Weaver headed up the “army of the decent” who will take on President Trump.
Which didn’t, as it turned out, mean Weaver was too decent himself? The journalist Yashar Ali asks around, and updates:
“The number of gay men I know who have a ‘John Weaver DM’d me and made me uncomfortable’ story is astounding. An overwhelming number of men have been made to feel this way.”
As Weaver’s instant messages now circulate, there is a kind of memoir of a man who seems perpetually bored, angry, sexually agitated, perhaps borderline alcoholic.
He spends a lot of time finding and messaging men (“versatile? like a big cock?”), luring them into meetings at hotels. As Stedman reported on Weaver’s routine—springing sexual demands on them:
“Weaver pressured the man to give him a massage. Later on, Weaver asked the man to be ‘licked down there,’ which shocked the man given his expectation of having a professional discussion over dinner.”
Then Weaver goes back home, does media appearances, posing as a beacon of decency. Everyone around him knows about him, but he’s in the club? When the young men who’ve supplied sex expect jobs, he quits messaging them, and blocks them on social media.
I’m left thinking about all the extraordinary waves of conflict that were required for Weaver to be outed. And how many other stories there are of men who are sexually exploited for work, and never speak of it.
Weaver stonewalled on the issue for a week.
He was quietly dropped from the website of The Lincoln Project. Why wasn’t there a statement in support of victims? It was just the pre-#MeToo playbook—conceal and ignore.
The right attacked him for “grooming” the young men, as if only able to discuss him through the idea of pedophilia.
Now, Weaver steps down from The Lincoln Project, which still has said nothing. He locks his Twitter account and makes a written statement to apologize for “inappropriate” messages. “The truth is that I’m gay,” he says. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”
No addressing the matter of offering jobs in exchange for sex, or the allegations of rape, which will probably fade into the long history of male secrets. 🔶
Update: The New York Times now reports on Weaver pursuing dozens of men, and initiating communication with one when he was age 14. I was in error to not notice a pedophiliac tendency.