Lawyer and political adviser Jordan Sekulow is the Saul Goodman of social conservatism. He frequently appears on right-wing television to pontificate—his face caked with makeup, hair gelled back, suit shining, and double chin taking on a life of its own—about a wide range of topics, from Christian persecution to conservative persecution. On social media, he branded those behind the proposed Ground Zero Mosque “terrorists.” And in his capacity as executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, televangelist Pat Robertson’s snake oil mega-mall of right-wing legal causes, he has lobbied foreign governments to ban homosexuality and fought efforts to allow exceptions to anti-abortion laws when the life of the mother is at risk.
And on Friday, he announced he’s going to work for Jeb Bush.
That’s right, Sekulow will be a senior adviser to the political action committee of the likely Republican presidential candidate most often labeled a moderate.
“Governor Bush knows how to take bold conservative ideas and put them into action,” Sekulow said in a statement provided to the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I am excited to begin a conversation with conservatives about Governor Bush’s pro-life, pro-family, tax-cutting record in Florida and the ideas we need to put into action to give every American a chance to rise up.”
While Bush has not endorsed Sekulow’s extreme anti-gay position, Salon’s Luke Brinker notes that he also has not “staked out positions substantially at odds with those taken by Sekulow and the ACLJ.”
Until this point, Bush’s hires have done nothing but bolster his moderate reputation—especially on the issue of marriage equality.
Expected to run Bush’s campaign is David Kochel, a vocal marriage equality advocate who ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign in Iowa; the communications director for Bush’s PAC, Right to Rise, is Tim Miller, who is openly gay; The New York Times reported on February 4 that Bush’s longtime adviser, Sally Bradshaw, “urged” her former pastor to continue to speak in favor of same-sex marriage.
Largely because of this, on February 26, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins declared Bush “2016’s Gay-Friendly Republican.”
Bush didn’t seem to like that.
The following day Bush spoke at CPAC where, shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity “I believe in traditional marriage.” Two weeks later, Time’s Zeke Miller reported Kochel “has stepped back from his outspoken role in support of same-sex marriage as he prepares to lead the presidential campaign.”
But this right field hire addresses a problem for Bush.
As soon as he declared he was “actively exploring” a presidential campaign, observers wondered if Bush was conservative enough.
Besides gay marriage—which he has consistently opposed, though he has, in recent years, adopted a more sympathetic tone when discussing the issue—Bush stands in opposition to the far-right on Common Core and immigration reform. According to FiveThirtEight’s Nate Silver, on a Conservatism scale of 0 to 100 Bush scores 37, “similar to Romney and McCain, each of whom scored a 39,” and neither of whom, you may recall, were elected president despite earning their party’s nomination.
Sekulow may be the perfect man to run interference between the social conservatives and the Bush campaign.
In 2012, when Sekulow and his father, Jay, chief counsel for the ACLJ and geriatric rocker, were advising the Romney campaign, it was reported by Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll that the pair had opened their own ACLJ offices in Africa to lobby local officials. In Zimbabwe, where homosexuality was outlawed in 2006, they “pushed an agenda that backs outlawing same-sex marriage and making sure that homosexuality ‘remain[s] a criminal activity.’” The younger Sekulow, the publication reported, traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to lobby officials in person. The father-son duo made similar anti-gay lobbying efforts in Russia.
Sekulow has dabbled in Islamophobia, even supporting anti-Sharia law measures in Oklahoma. During his campaign against the Ground Zero Mosque, Sekulow appeared with an extreme right Dutch politician who, Salon notes, called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture.”
In hiring Sekulow, Bush is extending an olive branch to the far-right, but he is also perhaps damaging himself should he make it to the general.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In an earlier version of this article, the subhead said Jordan Sekulow's father was hired by Bush. It has since been corrected and The Daily Beast regrets the error.