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Signs of Fissure Between GOP Establishment and Religious Right

June 9, 2011, 5:17 pm | Posted by jbridges

Last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, intended to unify the Tea Party and conservative Christian wings of the GOP base, interestingly highlighted some latent but emerging fissures between these two camps.

In his opening remarks, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “We cannot fix the fiscal until we fix the family.” He also made a less-than-subtle jab at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who only just recently announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president because, as he put it, “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one. The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all.” From Perkins:

You know, the voices of division cry out that America’s fiscal and economic crisis deserve all of our attention. They argue that government spending, budget deficits, and the national debate are out of control, and other matters are unrelated and must be put aside. One prominent political figure, a man who actually has compiled an impressive record on fiscal issues, educational policy, health care, and other topics even called for a truce on the core social issues. Ironically, the priority of his own family–a priority I commend him for embracing–has dissuaded him from seeking higher office.

Perkin’s use of irony here seems to serve as both a subtle personal dig at Daniels and a disingenuous way to suggest his “truce” represented an abandonment of other families.

Most of the presidential and almost-presidential candidates in attendance at the conference kowtowed to Perkins’ prioritization of social issues. However, Mississippi Governor and political heavyweight Haley Barbour, who like Daniels recently announced his decision not to run for president, made a push for party unity by pointing out that, “statistically speaking,” whichever candidate attendees chose to support likely wouldn’t win the Republican primary. Barbour, who ran against an evangelical Democrat in his 2007 reelection for governor, instead told the crowd:

In political campaigns, in great crusades, in the effort to get our country back on the right track, we got to stay focused on the main thing. The main thing is winning the election. We can’t change the country like we want it unless we win the election. Okay? Remember, purity, in politics, purity is the enemy of victory. Okay?

Barbour’s appeal met with a luke-warm reception from the crowd, and caused a bit of a stir among conference speakers. At an afternoon panel on Catholic grassroots action, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser pushed back on Barbour’s suggestion by warning that “We could win back the Senate, we could win the White House and if we weaken on the fight for life and marriage, we will lose the entire battle and what will it have been for?” But fellow panelist Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate, echoed Barbour’s sentiment, suggesting the governor was just asking social conservatives not to “start getting into the game of ‘are they pro-life or pro-marriage enough,’ don’t start parsing it too far.”

It will be interesting to see how this tension plays out in the coming Republican primaries and the 2012 election, especially if religious conservatives don’t get their candidate of choice.

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