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MEMBERS ONLY: Ted Cruz Is Totally Cool With Gays... Who Give Him Money

Ted Cruz would like you to know that he really doesn't hate gays. He just hates gays that don't want to write him a check.

Ted Cruz would like you to know that he really doesn't hate gays. He just hates gays that don't want to write him a check.

TheNew York Timesreports that Cruz "struck quite a different tone" towards homosexuality during a Monday night "dinner and 'fireside chat' for about a dozen people" including gay hospitality industry business operators Mati Wiederpass and Ian Reisner:

"Ted Cruz said, 'if one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much,' recalled Mr. Reisner, a same-sex marriage proponent who described himself as simply an attendee at Mr. Weiderpass's event."

Mr. Reisner and Kalman Sporn, who advises Mr. Cruz's Middle East team and served as the moderator for the evening, said the senator told the group that marriage should be left up to the states. The evening focused on primarily on foreign policy, including a discussion of gay rights in Israel versus the rest of the Middle East, and opposition to President Obama.

An aide to Mr. Cruz, reached on Thursday, reiterated that the senator is opposed to same-sex marriage.

Okay, first things first: You don't end up as "simply an attendee" at a 12-person private dinner (with a moderator) for a guy who's already raised tens of millions of dollars to support his presidential bid. That's like saying you were just at a meeting of the Illuminati just to mingle. Both Reisner and Weiderpass are noted to be "generous donors" to gay rights groups, which should immediately clear up just why this particular chat happened beside this particular gay guy's fireplace.

It's pretty clear that this meeting is intended to cover Cruz's flank as he continues to mount one of the most anti-gay campaigns in recent memory. Earlier this month, Cruz told a meeting of Iowa homeschoolers to be terrified of the looming threat of gay "jihad" in Indiana and Arkansas, more or less directly suggesting that LGBT people are leading a conspiracy to strip Christians of their rights. He's told the right-wing media that his heart "weeps" over rulings allowing gay marriage across the country. Cruz supported the Duck Dynasty guy when he compared gays to drunkards, terrorists, and people who screw farm animals.

Clearly Cruz does not exactly have a secret soft spot for the gay community. Tolerant people generally don't have to reassure the public that they would continue to love their own daughter if she turned out to be a lesbian. Instead, this looks more like his "I have gay friends, so I'm not a bigot" moment -- designed to put up the bare minimum of effort necessary to avoid accusations that he harbors hate in his heart.

It's also breathtakingly hypocritical for him to tell an audience that includes gay people that he believes gay marriage should be left to the states when he's previously suggested that gay marriage is actually unconstitutional. Cruz has been involved in countless attempts to define marriage as between a man and a woman on the federal level. Last year, he chided President Obama for failing to spend millions of dollars defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Considering the hopelessness of the case, it's not a stretch to suggest that Cruz was actually arguing for the federal government's authority to prohibit gay marriage to the death.

Now that it truly is up to the states -- at least until the Supreme Court hears states' arguments on gay marriage bans this summer -- Cruz is now arguing for preserving bans on same-sex marriage in all of them. Cruz doesn't actually care about where the decision is made just so long as it's in his side's favor. His allusion to gay rights in Israel, where same-sex marriage is illegal, but at least gays aren't stoned to death like in Iran, is appropriately cynical.

One key difference might be that Cruz needs these particular gay folks' money. By toning down the anti-gay rhetoric, at least in private, he might be able to avoid turning off socially liberal but fiscally conservative members of the elite donor class who might otherwise contribute to someone else. Wealthy, conservative gay men living in Manhattan might care more about their next tax payment than whether two gay hillbillies can get married in Georgia. Perhaps Cruz also sees that the Supreme Court is likely to rule against gay marriage, has seen the polls indicating mass popular support, and so has decided to change the tenor of his approach. Or maybe it's just that in exchange for a big check, Cruz is willing to pretend certain kinds of people don't disgust him for a few moments.

Cruz is also playing his own crude game of identity politics: associating himself with the bigots of the world who would like the privilege to say whatever vile things they want and support whichever regressive policies they choose, but who feign incredible offense towards being called out on it. It's slightly more sophisticated than Rick Santorum's outright comparison of homosexuality to "man on child, man on dog" sex in 2003, or Bill O'Reilly's insistence that gay marriage would lead to man-goat marriage in 2009 ... but not by much. Somehow, I don't think many people are going to buy it.