Should Republicans rally around a transgender gubernatorial candidate at a moment when the harmful consequences of gender ideology are snowballing? On Caitlyn Jenner’s California candidacy, the moral and political pros and cons are tangled. As Jenner unveils well-crafted ads and gives promising statements about sports to TMZ, the GOP finds itself in a really weird spot.
Gender dysphoria is a real condition for which Jenner believes “transitions” are an appropriate treatment. I strongly disagree, but taken only as a treatment option for a tiny sliver of the adult population, it’s less bothersome than the cultural left’s insistence that children take puberty blockers and mutilate their bodies, and that society change entirely to accommodate an extremely radical, false conception of something as basic as biology.
To the extent Jenner supports that effort—which harms children, endangers women, and gaslights the public—the decision is easy for conservatives. Don’t touch this candidacy. The issue is too important and too immediate to compromise an inch.
If, however, Jenner clearly expresses support only for transitions to treat the slim segment of the adult population that suffers from gender dysphoria, I think the calculus is different—particularly if Jenner actively campaigns against the medical abuse of children, normalization of radical language changes, policies that endanger women in places like shelters and prisons, and destruction of women’s sports. In that case, as a high-profile transgender opponent of them, Jenner’s candidacy could lend credence to the argument that leftists are pushing flagrantly dangerous ideas.
This is a huge “if.” Again, the issue is so immediate and so serious that women and children cannot afford for conservatives to compromise an inch. Since transitioning from Bruce to Caitlyn, Jenner’s LGBT advocacy has indisputably boosted the normalization of radical and harmful new gender norms. Jenner would have to walk a lot of that back as the race unfolds. (Did this ad signal that could be the case?)
For instance, while I believe in using preferred pronouns in personal exchanges for the sake of mental health, Republicans using Jenner’s preferred pronouns in an official capacity would legitimize radical norms about changes to our language. That’s a huge hurdle. (Although Jenner still goes by “Dad” with Kendall and Kylie.)
There are more practical calculuses as well. Is Jenner qualified to lead a state with the fifth-largest economy in the world? Not really. Is an unqualified fiscal conservative better than a more conventionally qualified progressive Democrat? Maybe. How much do conventional qualifications actually matter these days? Should Republicans back a more conventionally qualified member of their party, even if their chances of defeating Gavin Newsom are much lower? Are they much lower?
Again, none of these questions are easy, although some people likely and reasonably see their answers in black-and-white terms, for either moral reasons or pragmatic ones or a combination of both. California is blue state, so the GOP should generally expect voters to respond more favorably to more centrist candidates. This is also the state that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, so celebrity name recognition can be helpful.
If there’s good reason to believe Republicans either back Jenner or get Newsom, I think there’s a good argument to make that an unqualified Jenner would be better than a demonstrably disastrous leader like Newsom. But if the GOP and broader conservative movement gets behind a Jenner candidacy and Jenner supports the normalization of radical gender ideology, they will be complicit in a moral abomination, given the issue’s immediately harmful consequences for children and women.