Palin's retweet of gay radio host's DADT comment sparks speculation over stance

A collection of media appearances by conservative leaders responding to questions about Palin's potential 2012 presidential bid.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:02 AM

Sometimes a rose is just a rose - but that doesn't tell us anything about what Sarah Palin's tweets mean.

The former Alaska governor is famous for using Twitter to muse and zing and occasionally make news in 140 characters or less. This week, she did it by sending out a post from an openly gay talk radio host criticizing opponents of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

But what does it mean? Does Palin, who has spent the better part of two years cultivating her popularity with conservative Republicans, support allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the armed forces? And if so, what is she playing at?

At issue is a tweet posted early Tuesday by Tammy Bruce, a conservative talk radio host who is openly gay: "But this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already - the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed."

A little later in the day, Palin "retweeted" Bruce's post, meaning she sent it out to the more than 350,000 people who follow her on Twitter. Palin didn't add her own comment to the post. Nor has she said anything publicly since to explain what she meant.

"It's hard to know what the meaning is," said Mathew Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va. "I doubt if she has changed her position, but if she has, she will have lost a large base of her support."

But will Palin also have gained support? And really, let's just cut to the chase: How does the tweet affect Palin's presidential ambitions? Does it change the conversation? Or was it simply meant to keep her in the conversation without the damage of an explicit position?

Bruce explained in a subsequent blog post that her own tweet referred to the Navy captain who was relieved of his command Tuesday for making a series of lewd videos that were shown to 6,000 sailors and Marines serving under him on the USS Enterprise.

Bruce also wrote that she believes that Palin, in retweeting the post, meant to support Bruce's point of view on "don't ask, don't tell."

"When it comes to Sarah Palin's position on DADT, I have never asked her about it and she has never spoken to me about it - but I assess her as a conservative with libertarian influence," Bruce wrote. "Both her husband and son are independents, with Mr. Palin serving as his wife's primary adviser. I will remind people of things already in the public realm about the governor - she refused to veto partner benefits legislation as governor of Alaska and is a firm believer in fairness and "live and let live." She is not a culture warrior, however. She is, which should be apparent by her Facebook postings and opinion pieces, a policy wonk. She is also, which is clearly evident, a charismatic leader who remains grounded by her character, faith and family."

Bruce also said that she took Palin's retweet as a "condemnation" of efforts by a number of conservative groups to protest this year's upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference because the pro-gay rights Republican group GOProud is a sponsor.

Staver, of Liberty Counsel, is among those protesting the CPAC conference. He is certain that Palin, in the past, has opposed lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" ban - and that, more generally, she opposes what he calls the "homosexual agenda." He also thinks that Palin chose not to to attend CPAC last year because GOProud was a sponsor then, too.

Palin's record is a bit murkier than that. At the time, published reports indicated that Palin declined the invitation because of controversies surrounding CPAC's organizer, the American Conservative Union. The group's leader, David Keene, had been accused of demanding a large payment from FedEx in exchange for support of its legislative agenda - which Palin confidants said cast a "pay-for-play" pall over the conference.

Palin also has been unclear about "don't ask, don't tell." In an interview with Fox News in February, she said she was surprised that President Obama was pushing to repeal the ban - but she never condemned his position on the substance. "There are other things to be worried about right now with the military," Palin said. "I think that kind of on the back burner, is sufficient for now. To put so much time, and effort, and politics into it, [is] unnecessary."

Such statements have placated social conservatives, some of whom were reluctant this week to interpret her tweet.

"I'm not going to comment on what constitutes a position put forth by Governor Palin, particularly when it involves a retweet of a tweet," said Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, a group that generally supports Palin but that is also protesting CPAC this year.

Palin undoubtedly will be asked about the issue the next time the opportunity arises.

"Only Sarah Palin can answer that question," Staver said. "That will be an interesting answer."

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