Showdown on the Right
Salon.com’s Michael Scherer reports that the religious right seems to be falling out of love with the Republican party:
A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives…
“The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party,” said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. “Dobson came in just for this meeting,” the person said.
The decision confirms the fears of many Republican Party officials, who have worried that a Giuliani nomination would irrevocably split the GOP in advance of the 2008 general election, given Giuliani’s relatively liberal stands on gay unions and abortion, as well as his rocky marital history. The private meeting was held Saturday afternoon, during a lull in the official CNP schedule. Earlier in the day, Vice President Dick Cheney had traveled to Utah to deliver a brief address to the larger CNP gathering. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also addressed the larger group.
Over at The Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen weighs in on a possible underlying strategy:
the religious right may very well be bluffing about breaking off from the GOP if the party nominates Giuliani, but it’s worth remembering that there’s some self-preservation at play here. Dobson & Co., not to mention their loyal followers, believe they have enormous influence in Republican circles, and can dictate the party’s direction. If the Republicans nominate a pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-gun control, thrice-married serial adulterer who wants to invest in stem-cell research, the religious right’s masquerade will be over. It will be obvious that the movement is practically powerless in the party, and the groups’ benefactors will have far less reason to keep writing the checks that keeps the movement afloat.
So, what happens next? Watch for two things to happen: one, the religious right may have no choice but to coalesce around a single, credible candidate, if only to block Giuliani. And two, watch for Dobson & Co. to take the gloves off and go after Giuliani relentlessly. These guys don’t want to bolt for a third party; they’d much prefer to stay where they are with a nominee they can live with.
The Politico’s Jonathan Martin and The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick provide further context and sources. It all adds up to a giant looming schism on the right. Should Giuliani win the nomination, religious conservatives will have to abandon the priorities they’ve loudly espoused for decades or walk away from power altogether.