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What was Utah Rep. Chris Stewart doing at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort?

Richard Grenell smiles during a press conference Sept. 22, 2020.
Richard Grenell smiles during a press conference Sept. 22, 2020. A high-profile group of Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and several with Utah ties, gathered with the nation’s largest conservative LGBTQ organization in Florida this past weekend.
Darko Vojinovic, Associated Press

A high-profile group of Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and several with Utah ties, gathered with the nation’s largest conservative LGBTQ organization in Florida this past weekend.

Log Cabin Republicans held its annual “Spirit of Lincoln Gala” at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, where it honored former first lady Melania Trump, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Richard Grenell, the first openly gay Cabinet official who served as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration.

Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser during his last year in office, introduced Stewart at the awards ceremony.

It wasn’t long ago that such a collection of Republican politicians wouldn’t be sitting in a room with the gay community.

Grenell, who was working on the Bush-Quayle reelection campaign in 1992, recalled hearing Pat Buchanan outline a strategy where gay people were not welcome in the GOP at the Republican National Convention.

“Now, 29 years later, we were at an event where the former president of the United States and first lady are welcoming us, and hosting 600 influential gays, lesbians and their straight allies,” Grenell, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Germany, told Fox News. “It is phenomenal for me to look back and see this and to champion an organization like Log Cabin.”

At the gala, McDaniel announced the RNC Pride Coalition, an effort with Log Cabin Republicans to mobilize LGBTQ communities ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. She called the group a “partner to fight for our country’s future,” according to Fox News.

“Conservatives in Log Cabin don’t just share our vision for a free, secure and prosperous America — they enrich it by adding unique perspectives to our party and recruiting even more diverse candidates and supporters to join our cause,” McDaniel said.

Trump portrayed himself as friendly to gay rights in his 2016 presidential campaign but that seemed to lose emphasis during his administration.

Nearly 9 million LGBTQ adults were registered and eligible to vote in the 2020 general election. Half of registered LGBTQ voters were Democrats, 15% Republicans, 22% independents and 13% identified with another party or didn’t know which party they most identify with, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA.

Log Cabin Republicans president Charles Moran told Fox News, “When LGBT conservatives are included in Republican campaigns, we win.”

“It’s absolutely critical for the Republican Party to be making the case that our policies lift and protect all,” said Greg Smith, a former White House deputy political director and BYU graduate who O’Brien recently hired as vice president of his consulting firm.

Stewart had little interaction with Log Cabin Republicans prior to the group recognizing him over the weekend for the Fairness for All Act he is proposing.

He reintroduced the legislation earlier this year aiming to balance nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender Americans with protections for people of faith. The bill has 20 GOP House co-sponsors, and Stewart said he’s trying to find Democrats in the House and Senate to support the measure. It faces a long road given House Democrats passed the Equality Act earlier this year.

Meeting with Log Cabin leaders was a first for Stewart. While the GOP has focused on attracting Latinos and working class whites, he said LGBTQ voters are part of that effort as well.

“I think the Republican Party has been viewed as being somewhat hostile to some LGBTQ groups, and I think that’s unnecessary. There’s just been a general softening on some of these things over the last 10 years, certainly since Prop 8 in California,” he said.

Republican leaders, Stewart said, don’t really care about a person’s sexual orientation, skin color or ethnicity.

“What we care about is do we share the same values. Do we share the same goals? Will you work with us? Can we work with you?” he said.

Stewart described the Log Cabin Republicans at the event as a “very enthusiastic” group of people.

“There was nothing said there that I disagreed with. We didn’t talk about LGBTQ rights so much as we talked about how do we protect America, how do we make America stronger,” he said. “It was a very natural fit.”

It might also be interesting to note Stewart, O’Brien, who has been mentioned as a dark horse 2024 presidential candidate, and McDaniel, the niece of Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has taken criticism over the years for its stance on some LGBTQ issues such as same-sex marriage.

Stewart said he and O’Brien talked about the fact that Latter-day Saints were part of the Log Cabin event. He said O’Brien told him he was surprised that two or three Latter-day Saints were hosted at the event. But, Stewart said, he noted that they were “graciously received.”

“Neither one of us talked about it before,” Stewart said. “It was more an observation after the fact that, hey, here are three LDS people and we felt very welcome.”

At the gala, Stewart shared a table with Trump. He said they talked about golf, baseball and “other things,” though he declined to offer specifics, saying only they had some “substantial conversations.”

Stewart didn’t come away with any inside knowledge of whether Trump, who he described as full of energy, would run for president in 2024.

“I honestly don’t think he’s decided,” Stewart said. “I think he’s waiting to see.”