Mitt Romney

A Reverse Religious Test?

What does Mike Huckabee need to get Religious Right leaders and voters to rally around his candidacy?  Apparently, all he needs is to have his right-wing views and record criticized by “elite secularists”:

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, DC, says Huckabee is being subjected to the same reverse religious litmus test that was applied during judicial confirmation hearings between 2003 and 2005.

"Senator Charles Schumer of New York said that he was opposed to some of these nominees of the president because of their 'deeply held personal beliefs' and those beliefs coming from their faith -- in particular, regarding abortion and seeing it as wrong," Perkins points out. "So we see a reverse religious test being applied [saying essentially] that anyone who has a vibrant Christian faith that impacts their life will have to choose between that faith and serving in public office -- and that, simply, is wrong."

Perkins says "elite secularists" are trying single out Huckabee because of his evangelical Christian faith, and are attempting to "make him look scary" to the public because he, among other things, rejects evolution, believes in the Bible, and trusts in Jesus Christ. But such efforts, the evangelical leader suggests, may only serve to generate more support for Huckabee in the conservative Christian community.

"I think there's a clear understanding and an attitude [about this] among Christians," says the FRC president. "They're simply tired of the elites who belittle their beliefs and attempt to rob them of every public reflection of their faith -- and I think this could backfire."

As always, whenever a Republican is questioned about his or her views and record, the Right’s immediate response is to impugn the motives of those who dare to point them out and accuse them of harboring everything from anti-Latino prejudice and flagrant anti-woman bias, to anti-Catholic bigotry and basic racism.

If Perkins was professionally invested in seeing anti-Christian persecution at every turn, he’d know that it is not “elite secularists” who are making Huckabee look scary – it is Huckabee’s own views that those with HIV should be quarantined and that “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle” that is doing that.   

But if Perkins thinks that this sort of thing will help Huckabee with voters, Huckabee himself doesn’t seem to hold out much hope that the Religious Right elite will ever get over their reluctance to endorse him, even though he is a “true soldier for the cause”:

[Huckabee’s ads] also caught the attention of big-time figures in evangelical Christianity, many of whom have refrained from supporting Huckabee’s candidacy. This failure has puzzled and angered the governor. At the Olive Garden he spoke with bitterness about Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. ‘‘Richard Land swoons for Fred Thompson,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know what that’s about. For reasons I don’t fully understand, some of these Washington-based people forget why they are there. They make ‘electability’ their criterion. But I am a true soldier for the cause. If my own abandon me on the battlefield, it will have a chilling effect.’’

The following week, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Huckabee won the roomful of grass-roots evangelicals but failed to gain any significant endorsements from evangelical leaders. ‘‘The evangelical leadership didn’t, and perhaps still doesn’t, perceive Governor Huckabee as a winner,’’ Charles Dunn, dean of the school of government at Regent University, told me. ‘‘But more and more, it appears that the leadership is not in touch with its followers.’’

This indictment extends to the founder of Dunn’s own university, Pat Robertson, who has endorsed Rudy Giuliani. It applies equally to the National Right to Life Committee, which is with Fred Thompson; and to the Rev. Bob Jones III, Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice (the evangelical counterpart of the A.C.L.U.), and Paul Weyrich, the conservative activist who helped build the evangelical movement, all of whom are supporting Mitt Romney. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, is still on the fence. ‘‘I just don’t understand his neutrality,’’ Huckabee told me one day at the end of October in Des Moines. ‘‘I’d be an obvious choice for his endorsement. We’re old friends. I love him and I love his wife, Shirley. I just don’t know how to explain it.’’

Huckabee Embraces Washed-Up Minutemen Leader

While Tom Tancredo continues his efforts to push the Republican presidential race further and further towards anti-immigrant extremism, it’s important to remember that the candidates who are following his lead are the ones with a chance of winning the party’s nomination. Rudy Giuliani is attacking Mitt Romney over his landscapers, and Romney is running an ad in Iowa attacking Huckabee over past support of education programs for undocumented immigrants.

Not to be outdone, Huckabee apparently borrowed his immigration platform from an anti-immigrant group, the Center for Immigration Studies. And this week he announced a surprising endorsement: Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minutemen border vigilante movement. Lest anyone forget that Huckabee is the far-right candidate who’s “not angry about it,” the former governor said at the press conference, "I'm not angry at anyone. I'm angry at the government. I'm not angry immigrants want to come here."

Huckabee and Gilchrist in IowaGilchrist, whose Minuteman Project split from Chris Simcox’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps back in 2005, has been struggling since his own board ousted him over alleged financial mismanagement, and the extent to which he remains an influence over the fractious Minuteman phenomenon is unclear.

So while Gilchrist may give Huckabee some kind of anti-immigrant credibility among the right-wing base, it may be that Huckabee is giving a much greater boost to Gilchrist. Huckabee, whose “nice guy” persona contrasts starkly with the armed-and-dangerous image of the Minutemen, even went out of his way to apologize for perceiving the vigilantes as fringe activists:

"There are times when I, probably in the early days of the Minuteman, I thought, 'What are these guys doing . . . what are they about?' " he told Gilchrist during their press conference in Iowa. "I confess, I owe you an apology for even questioning why in the world you guys would do it. As all of us have seen, the federal government has failed to secure the borders -- they failed to bring a policy that is good for everybody involved."

With such generous pandering in play in this election cycle, anti-immigrant activists and groups are likely to stick around. Indeed, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (like the Center for Immigration Studies, part of John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant “grassroots” groups) is planning to bring right-wing radio talkers to Iowa just days before the caucuses, as the group releases a report purporting to show “rapidly escalating costs resulting from illegal immigration” in the overwhelmingly white state.

Handily, the Southern Poverty Law Center has just published an article on FAIR’s connections to racist hate groups. Now, if we could only get it into the hands of Republican presidential candidates …

(Image from Noam Scheiber at The New Republic.)

Keyes Gets Some Love

Overcoming past slights, Alan Keyes will be participating in the the upcoming The Des Moines Register Presidential Debate: "Confirmed candidates for the Republican debate on Wednesday, December 12 are: Ambassador Alan Keyes; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Rep. Duncan Hunter; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo; and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson."

Huckabee Consistent When Convenient

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently took a shot at rival Mitt Romney for having changed his political positions:"I think people should judge Mitt Romney on his record. Is he consistent? Does he say and believe the things now that he said and believed before? That's what ought to be the criteria.” When confronted over the weekend by his 1992 comments about people infected with HIV calling on the federal government to “take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” Huckabee said, "The one thing I feel like is important to note is that you stick by what you said" and that while he might say things differently today, “I don’t run from it, don’t recant from it.” That concern about consistency apparently didn’t extend to his much more recent position on federal government policy toward Cuba. In fact, it only took a couple of hours for him to reverse course when it looked like his previous position might cost him some votes, according to a Miami Herald story about the GOP candidate debate hosted by television network Univisión:
Although the candidates kept it polite on stage, Fred Thompson's campaign circulated press clippings from 2002 in which Huckabee called for an end to the trade embargo with Cuba. In a letter to President Bush, Huckabee wrote at the time: ``U.S. policy on Cuba has not accomplished its stated goal of toppling the Castro regime and instead has provided Castro with a convenient excuse for his own failed system of government.'' That stance is bound to rile many Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade, who believe that the embargo helps undermine Fidel Castro's repressive regime. Huckabee is certain to face questions about the embargo at a Monday morning press conference in Miami, where he is expecting an endorsement from Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, one of the most prominent Cuban-American Republicans in the state. Caught off guard, Huckabee's campaign said two hours after the debate that he had since changed his position on the embargo after consulting with Cuban-American leaders. ''He's committed to vetoing any legislation that lifts sanctions on Cuba,'' said Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart.

Playing the Victim

Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse comments on Mitt Romney's "faith" speech, saying "The hostility and distrust of Evangelicals far exceeds that faced by the Mormons," while Gary Cass, Chairman and CEO of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, calls on Romney to "renounce the historic Mormon hostility to Christianity."

Brand Newt

Newt Gingrich has descended upon the Iowa caucuses again, promoting a “Platform of the American People” –and, incredibly, raising the specter of running for vice president:

The timing of his appearances a month before the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses is leading political observers to suspect he's angling to be on the short list of running-mates for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or whoever is the Republican nominee. …

The former House speaker who flirted with a Republican presidential nomination run earlier this year said in a C-SPAN interview on Sunday that he might accept being the presidential nominee's running mate if offered.

"Depending on the circumstances, I'd be honored to be considered and under some circumstances, I'd probably feel compelled to say 'yes,' " said Mr. Gingrich, who says he will work until this summer's presidential nominating conventions "to get both parties to adopt a unity platform on a handful of things they could enact in the first 90 days of 2009."

It was just two months ago that Gingrich’s incipient presidential run was mercifully laid to rest, but some on the Right are apparently holding out hope that the former House speaker will save them, perhaps fondly recalling the “Contract with America” that he put together shortly before the Republicans took control of the House in 1995 and that served as a right-wing rallying cry after the elections.

Of course, a lot has happened since 1995. Gingrich quickly established his lack of popularity—within two years, his favorability rating was at 15 percent. His skills as a political strategist were put to the test as he pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the run up to the 1998 elections, which resulted in a devastating loss for Republicans and his stepping down from leadership. Many Americans no doubt remember the hypocrisy of Gingrich prosecuting Clinton for sexual indiscretion while he himself was having an affair.

Gingrich was a key figure in creating the era of highly-polarized politics, but today he is branding himself, ironically, as a seeker of common ground, launching a campaign earlier this year of platitudes (“Real change requires real change,” etc.). Now, the Right is looking to him as its “ideas man,” gushing over his “intellectual heft.” “Newt Gingrich is the intellectual cornerstone of our modern conservative movement," said the American Conservative Union’s William Lauderback at this year’s CPAC.

While such a reputation on the Right may be hard to believe, it may ultimately doom his vice-presidential aspirations; ACU’s David Keene warns that Gingrich’s “articulateness and willingness to speak out on virtually every issue” would put candidates at risk of being “upstag[ed]” by him. That would indeed be embarrassing.

In any event, we’re sure Gingrich is enjoying all the attention, and it brings to mind the words of longtime Gingrich ally Matt Towery after Gingrich announced he wouldn’t seek the presidency. "The question is, around Washington: Was it a scam?”

Romney Pulling a Reverse JFK?

After months of dithering about whether to make a major speech about his Mormon faith, GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney is scheduled to address “Faith in America” at the George H. W. Bush presidential library Thursday night. John F. Kennedy’s famous speech (video | transcript) to protestant ministers in Houston is often cited as the precedent. But Romney’s no J.F.K. and this will have to be a much different speech. Kennedy was the Democratic nominee pledging to Americans his support for “absolute” separation of church and state, promising that his Catholicism would not dictate his policy positions, and urging Americans to rise above religious intolerance and promote an ideal of brotherhood. Romney is in a dramatically different situation. He’s in a heated primary race, losing conservative evangelical Christian voters to Mike Huckabee, and walking a tightrope. He can’t make JFK’s appeal to church-state separation, because he’s trying to get support from people who think church-state separation is, in Pat Robertson’s phrase, a “lie of the left.” Ditto for an appeal to religious tolerance, not a high priority for the “Christian nation” crowd. So Romney’s more likely to try to convince Religious Right voters that they should care less about the theology of Mormonism and more about his pledge to support Religious Right policy priorities down the line: criminalization of abortion, opposition to equality for gay people, a dismantling of the wall separating church and state -- and judges who agree. That’s been enough to win the support of some high-profile Religious Right leaders, including Paul Weyrich, Lou Sheldon and Jay Sekulow. But as Huckabee surges, Romney finds himself in a bit of a box, partly of his own making. Given the power of Religious Right voters in the GOP primary, and the de facto religious test many of them apply to the presidency, Romney has stressed the importance of electing a person of faith. But when he has tried to assure Religious Right voters that he is a follower of Christ, he has drawn stern warnings from people like the Southern Baptists’ Richard Land, because many evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult. According to Pew polls, more than a third of white evangelicals, and more than 4 in 10 of evangelicals who attend church weekly, say they’re less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon. Says Land, “When he goes around and says Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, he ticks off at least half the evangelicals.” Mike Huckabee, in many ways the dream candidate for Religious Right voters, isn’t trying to make things any easier for Romney. While deflecting opportunities to comment directly on whether or not Mormons are Christians, Huckabee has encouraged others to ask Romney. “If we’re going to ask me about my faith, let’s ask all the candidates about theirs,” he suggests. “Now as you noticed, I’m not hesitant or reluctant to talk about mine.” Of course, the whole conversation tells us how far the Religious Right and its GOP allies are from the vision espoused by John F. Kennedy. In October, a prominent Dallas minister Robert Jeffress, speaking of Romney, said, “It’s a little hypocritical for the last eight years to be talking about how important it is for us to elect a Christian president and then turn around and endorse a non-Christian,” he said. “Christian conservatives are going to have to decide whether having a Christian president is really important or not.” The Religious Right’s long public war on church-state separation and religious pluralism has been cheered on by Republican officials as long as it has been a weapon against Democratic candidates. But it’s not as much fun for them when the target is one of the GOP’s top contenders.

Huckabee: The Squeaky Wheel

On the day before Mitt Romney is scheduled to deliver his "Faith in America" speech in order to try and quell concerns about his Mormon faith among evangelical voters heading into the Republican primaries, Mike Huckabee complains to Ross Douthat in an interview in GQ that he has been receiving more scrutiny about his religion than anyone:
Generally speaking, do you think it’s fair for people to take a candidate’s theological convictions into consideration at the polling place? As long as everyone gets the same scrutiny. That’s what I don’t think is fair: I’ve been given an unusual level of scrutiny. No candidate gets quizzed to the depth that I do about faith. Really? Even Mitt Romney? He hasn’t gotten nearly as much for his Mormonism as I have for being a Baptist. I mean, I’ve never heard the kind of interviews with him that I got from Bill O’Reilly or Wolf Blitzer. No one’s just kept pressing and pressing and going into the details of his doctrine. Not that I’ve heard.
Of course, Romney isn't running as a "Christian Leader" in ads proclaiming that his "faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me" - Huckabee is. In fact, Huckabee's entire campaign to this point has hinged on his ability to convince evangelical voters that he is the only candidate who is running "not as one who comes to you but as one who comes from you," as he proudly declared at the Values Voter Debate. Huckabee is so much in tune with these activists and leaders that he has even adopted their favorite tactic: playing the victim. On top of that, he claims to share the grassroots activists' confusion and dismay about why the Religious Right's various leaders won't rally behind the candidate who is most openly and consistently committed to their right-wing agenda - him:
[I]sn’t Robertson’s endorsement [of Giuliani] strange? I mean, you could say that pro-lifers are finally on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade—you’re just one Supreme Court justice away—but there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency coming from the movement. What’s going on? Now, that’s a question I can’t answer. It seems that the leaders of the past, those who have been looked to as the bell cows of the movement, are completely out of step with their own followers lately. But if you talk about the people in the rank and file, there’s not any confusion at all. The people haven’t abandoned their principles. It’s almost like that classic cartoon where the guy runs up and says, “Did you see where everybody went? I’m their leader and I need to know who they are.” That’s kind of what’s happening. When I win 51 percent of the vote in the Washington Values Voters poll and 63 percent of the one in Ft. Lauderdale, and the next closest candidate to me has 12 percent, nobody says, Hmm, those voters look like they’re all over the place. They’re not all over the place at all. They have it pretty well figured out. What do you think the leaders are thinking? They’re thinking in terms of political expediency and not in terms of the principles that supposedly got them involved in the movement to begin with. It’s kind of like if the NRA suddenly started saying, “Well, you know, guns are important, but what we really care about is global warming.” Nobody would take them seriously, because they would have lost their core purpose.
Despite all of his complaining, Huckabee has been racking up endorsements from lesser known figures left and right lately - and these smaller endorsements might just be about to pay off big time:

Huckabee now is aiming for his next big score: an endorsement from Dr. James Dobson, the king of Christian radio. Huckabee is working it hard – and nearing his goal. In Iowa, a group of pastors gathered in private to hear the Huckabee message and a cheerleading speech by Tim LaHaye, evangelist and author of the “Left Behind” series, who is one of Dobson’s oldest friends and allies. The Dobson camp wouldn’t comment, but others I have talked to in the movement said “Doctor Dobson” is likely to come aboard soon. Rumors flew a month ago that an endorsement was imminent – and it never happened. Now it looks like it will. “Dobson isn’t eager to do it, he’d rather hang back, but Huckabee’s campaign impresses a lot of people around him (Dobson),” said a source with ties to both camps.

'Patriot Pastors' ... for Huckabee?

Rick Scarborough, a pioneer in organizing churches around partisan politics, has seen his national stature rise dramatically in the last few years—the Texas ex-pastor even starred on CNN’s “God’s Warriors” series—but he’s also faced some setbacks. His “Patriot Pastors” strategy was dealt a blow last November when voters in South Dakota rejected an abortion ban and Missourians voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research, despite non-stop church-based organizing by Scarborough in both states up to Election Day. He also discovered the fact, known by most other political advocacy groups, that full-time lobbying or organizing for or against legislation is not tax-deductible—a sad day for him.

And his latest “Patriot Pastors” campaign—the ambitious70 Weeks to Save America” tour that was to culminate on Election Day 2008—has apparently suffered from a lack of media coverage, spotty participation, and finally abandonment by Scarborough’s partner, Alan Keyes, who is running for president again. “Needless to say, this created a serious reevaluation of our whole program to register voters and to educate Christians through our Seventy Week campaign,” wrote Scarborough, who announced that sparser church events would be “augment[ed]” by voter registration drives and rallies at state capitols, “followed by an all out effort to move Values Voters to vote their values on Election Day '08.”

But sometimes opportunity knocks. Joining Randy Brinson, head of the embattled Christian Coalition of Alabama as well as a voter-registration outfit, Scarborough is bringing his “Patriot Pastors” act to the Iowa caucuses:

Beginning December 6, Vision America will be joining forces with RedeemtheVote.com in an effort to mobilize thousands of Values Voters all over Iowa as we barnstorm the state for ten days. We have been offered the use of a bus that has been especially designed for rallies, complete with a roll out stage, satellites on the roof to connect with the worldwide media, loud speakers and spotlights.

We will be working with the Iowa Family Policy Institute as well as the Iowa Christian Alliance, two very aggressive and effective pro-family organizations. Our goal is to host three rallies a day as we crisscross the state, registering thousands of voters and mobilizing tens of thousands to vote their values during the Iowa caucuses in January.

"Fox News," "US News and World Report," and other national media have expressed interest in covering this groundbreaking event as we travel the length and breadth of this important state.

Scarborough’s “One Day Crusades” this year have so far been focused on next year’s general election. Why the sudden interest in the Republican presidential primary? Well, Scarborough has heartily endorsed his former seminary classmate, Mike Huckabee, as has Brinson. And media are reporting that Huckabee has a shot of winning the Iowa caucus.

While Scarborough’s help may or may not push Huckabee over the edge in Iowa, the activist is still hedging his bets. After all, Rudy Giuliani still leads in national polls, and some have speculated that Huckabee’s surge ultimately benefits Giuliani by siphoning off far-right support for Mitt Romney. Scarborough has publicly waffled over whether he would support Giuliani were he nominated, but while he’s said Giuliani’s stance on abortion is unacceptable, he’s also been giving himself some wiggle room. Radical Islam, he said recently, is “the ultimate life issue."

Anti-Abortion Movement Split Spills onto Presidential Race

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the reappearance of a somewhat rusty tactic in the anti-abortion movement’s tool belt: attempts to pass a “Human Life Amendment” to several state constitutions, which would purportedly grant full “personhood” rights beginning at conception. Such an end-run would circumvent a protracted political debate—which they could lose, as they did when South Dakota voters rejected an abortion ban last year—and likely end up in federal court, where activists hope new right-wing Supreme Court justices will take the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the major national religious-right groups have preferred a more incremental strategy of advancing less-sweeping restrictions and promoting Republican politicians who promise to appoint anti-abortion judges, leaving absolutist activists out in the cold, as the Times notes:

For the most part, the campaigns are run by local activists, with little support or funding from big national antiabortion groups. Similar efforts have failed in the past: Proponents in Michigan could not collect enough signatures to put a personhood measure on the ballot in 2006. The Georgia proposal stalled in the Legislature this year.

Indeed, Clarke Forsythe and Denise Burke of Americans United for Life—a legal group active since the 1970s—published an article in National Review today calling the HLA “a losing move for the pro-life movement.” While AUL is hardly an influential group in this decade, its anti-HLA commentary recalls the anti-abortion movement’s in-fighting in the 1980s and 1990s over militant clinic protests (and the occasional murder of doctors). Although AUL was happy to represent militant activist Joseph Scheidler and his Pro-Life Action League in court, at the same time it pooh-poohed the frenzied “Summer of Mercy” protest in Wichita in 1991. “[I]t is better to show the public that [the abortion provider’s] practices are unlawful than to engage in tactics that attract attention to the unlawfulness of pro-lifers,” cautioned AUL’s president.

Dobson Won’t Support a Mormon or Launch His Own Campaign

Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery gave a wide ranging interview to The Denver Post's PoliticsWest where, among other things, he dismissed the notion that the Religious Right was on the verge of a meltdown:

It’s typical of what we see during election cycles. I remember as far back as 1988 when Pat Robertson ran for president and failed. There were wide predictions of a crackup; of the Moral Majority back then, of evangelicals. Then, of course, the Christian Coalition immediately rose up and became very strong. When that organization faded, there were another spate of stories about the crackup of evangelical Christians as an influence in the public square …  [O]bviously, there was a big stick swung by social conservatives in the 2004 election. The fact that George Bush won in Ohio, that very key state, because a lot of people turned out for the marriage amendment in that particular state, was deemed to be significant. Now, we’re into another cycle and the normal predictions of the crackup of evangelicalism is occurring. One of the phenomenon that gives rise to that, of course, is the fact that there is no single conservative candidate who has enough marbles for everybody in the conservative movement to want to play with. Everybody’s lacking in something. Partially, this is just the way it is. People will have to figure it out, who to support. So there’s some unsettledness. But I’d hardly call that a crack-up.

Minnery, like FRC’s Tony Perkins, also dismissed Giuliani’s pledge to nominate only “strict constructionist” judges as little more than a “politician’s promise,” and voiced his concerns about Giuliani’s past and personal life:   

His being married three times. Even the fact that he has shown up on Saturday Night Live in drag. I just cringe at the thought of the TV commercials that will be forthcoming from independent leftist organizations, 527s, if Giuliani becomes the nominee. I think very few people know that he tromped across the stage in drag. I think that that might be funny in New York. That might be funny for the Saturday Night Live audience. But for middle America, I do not think that will be funny … He has two male gay friends that he moved in with after his second divorce. And that was a messy affair. And just knowing how degrading politics is, I believe that there’ll be some kind of a PAC or 527 that will engineer a lot of negative advertising out of those events, designed specifically to keep conservative Christian people from pulling the lever for him.

But Minnery doesn’t seem to think this will be enough to keep committed right-wing voters at home on Election Day, saying that “a lot of people on our side would probably swallow hard and vote for the more conservative of the two major party candidates.” As for the possibility that James Dobson might end up endorsing Mitt Romney, Minnery called it “doubtful,” citing “the tremendous difference in theological views.”

But just because Dobson isn’t happy with any of the current GOP candidates doesn’t mean he has any plans to launch his own presidential campaign:

[Dobson] likes to be in charge … He’s a leader of an organization here. He’s been in charge of it and developed it. A president is in charge of one-third of the federal government and has to deal with so many different people. I think it would be a very frustrating job for someone, who’s an organization leader, to deal with. Besides, Dr. Dobson represents evangelical Christians. I don’t think that constituency is enough to elect somebody president, although it’s an important constituency within one of the two major parties.

The other problem is that there would be too many death threats against him; his wife would say, “'Jim, if you get into that, I’ll kill you.'”

Besides that, he’s 71 years old. And, in addition to that, he doesn’t want to do it.

For that, we can all be thankful. 

National Right to Life Endorsement of Thompson Called Selling Out

Rounding out a spate of recent right-wing endorsements of Republican presidential candidates, Fred Thompson has secured the support of the National Right to Life Committee. While not as far-fetched as Pat Robertson’s Giuliani endorsement, the pairing ought to raise some eyebrows, and not just because of Thompson’s rejection of major NRLC priorities such as the Human Life Amendment and federal intervention in Terri Schiavo’s case, or the candidate’s warning that a national abortion ban could lead to putting girls in prison, a notion Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America called “insulting.”

In his cornpone video message to NRLC’s annual convention last summer, Thompson played up his kinship with the group and his “100 percent” anti-abortion record in the Senate, but Thompson’s signature accomplishment in Congress was passage of campaign-finance reform, a bill hated by anti-abortion groups (as John McCain discovered) and arguably by no one more than NRLC.

In fact, Thompson’s campaign-finance hearings in the late 1990s specifically targeted NRLC, subpoenaing its and other groups’ financial records in search of evidence of electioneering. As recently as 2003, Thompson wrote an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the law’s regulation of “sham issue advocacy by non-party groups”—a point decided by the Court this year, in favor of “sham issue advocacy,” in a case involving NRLC affiliate Wisconsin Right to Life. (NRLC’s continuing disdain for campaign-finance regulation is also implied by its neglect to mention in its press release that the endorsement is actually by NRLC’s affiliated PAC.)

The odd endorsement led conservative-movement stalwart Paul Weyrich to suggest that the group had been bought off. "I think in all probability the Thompson people were engaged with the National Right to Life people in financial dealing," he said.

Does Dobson Heart Huckabee?

If this turns out to be true, it’ll likely do significant damage to Mitt Romney’s effort to secure the GOP nomination by pandering himself into the Right’s good graces – via The American Spectator’s “Washington Prowler”:

Dr. James Dobson, who has largely been made irrelevant to the 2008 Republican presidential race, has apparently found his man, and according to an adviser, is ready to change the landscape of the Republican nomination race.

"He is the leader of the evangelical and social conservative movement in America, and he's going to reassert that position and leave no doubt that he's in charge," says the adviser based in Colorado.

Sources close to Dobson say that within the next ten days he is coordinating an endorsement plan with the presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. According to a Huckabee insider in Iowa, the event would be staged in that state at a rally, followed by a bus tour across the state, and an appearance by Huckabee on Dobson's radio show, which is heard nationally.

Dobson's endorsement, according to the Huckabee source, could mean millions in fundraising to the campaign, allowing it to compete at the same level with the top tier candidates Huckabee has been inching toward in the polls after a series of strong debate and campaign appearances.

Huckabee has already secured a handful of right-wing endorsements; enough to mobilize those who oppose him to try and sink his nomination. So this will be a real test of Dobson’s influence to see if he can get other leaders in the movement to back Huckabee and, more importantly, to see if they possess enough influence to propel Huckabee into top tier and help him overtake the current frontrunners.

Robertson to Endorse Giuliani?

That is what the Politico and the Washington Post are reporting:

Pat Robertson, one of the most influential figures in the social conservative movement, will announce his support for Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid this morning in Washington, D.C., according to sources familiar with the decision.

Robertson's support was coveted by several of the leading Republican candidates and provides Giuliani with a major boost as the former New York City mayor seeks to convince social conservatives that, despite his positions on abortion and gay rights, he is an acceptable choice as the GOP nominee.

It also slows any momentum for Mitt Romney within the social conservative movement. Romney had recently secured the backing of conservative stalwarts Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III -- endorsements that seemed to strengthen his bid to become the electable conservative alternative to Giuliani. Romney had made no secret of his desire for Robertson's endorsement and has to be disappointed this morning.

The other major effect of Robertson's support for Giuliani is that it will quiet talk in social conservative circles that nominating Giuliani would lead "values voters" to abandon the Republican Party. The stamp of approval from Robertson should assuage the doubts of many (although certainly not all) of the rank-and-file social conservatives.

Of course, back in 1992, Robertson addressed the Republican National Convention where he attacked Bill Clinton for his support for reproductive choice, saying the Right could not allow America to be run by a man who “wants to give your 13-year-old daughter the choice without your consent to destroy the life of her unborn baby” and was running on a platform that “never once mentions the name of God:” 

Since I have come to Houston, I have been asked repeatedly to define traditional values. I say very simply, to me and to most Republicans, traditional values start with faith in Almighty God … When Bill Clinton talks about family values, I don't believe he's talking about either families or values. …The campaign before us is not just a campaign for an office, but for the destiny of America. We will not rest until there is a new birth of freedom in America … until we restore the greatness of America through moral strength.

Apparently, times have changed.

Meanwhile, Sam Brownback will reportedly endorse John McCain:

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), meanwhile, plans to announce his surprise endorsement of former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president on Wednesday, a campaign official told Politico.

The endorsement is to be announced in Dubuque, Iowa.

The alliance gives McCain — once a front-runner, now struggling — a crucial bridge to social conservatives, an important constituency that has remained suspicious of him despite his opposition to abortion.

Last month, Family Reseach Council President Tony Perkins was predicting that their Values Voter Summit would help the Right coalesce and narrow the field, if only by achieving agreement not to support Giuliani.  That turned out not to be the case, and if these two announcements are any indication, the Right’s hopes of unifying behind a single candidate are fading fast. 

Romney Pandering Himself Right Into a Corner

Mitt Romney continues to pick up endorsements and support from various right-wing leaders – the most recent being Paul Weyrich – and is working hard to establish himself as the candidate of choice for those who just cannot stomach the idea of supporting Rudy Giuliani.   In fact, that seems to be the primary reason Weyrich is even backing Romney: “I’m not for Giuliani. I want to try to stop him from getting the nomination.”  

But while he is slowly winning over the leaders of the right-wing establishment, the rank and file voters are still leery of, if not openly hostile to, his Mormon faith.  As Salon reported yesterday:

The Romney campaign, which has aggressively courted religious voters, is well aware of the problem. Romney has found himself, by dint of his personal faith, in the middle of a long-running competition between two rival evangelical faiths, each claiming the true word of God in the fight for converts. "It's Pepsi vs. Coke," said one Romney campaign aide, describing the differences between evangelical Protestants and Mormons. "But sometimes Pepsi and Coke have to team up to stop Starbucks from taking over the market." Starbucks, of course, represents secular America, which favors gay marriage, legal abortion and the minimization of religion in public life.

Romney, like Giuliani, appears to hope that he can win over these voters by pledging to nominate right-wing ideologues to the Supreme Court, which is just what he promised when speaking yesterday before the Nova Southeastern University Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society: 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking in Davie, said his commitment to appointing conservative judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would help him correct the nation's direction.

To reinforce this pledge, the Romney campaign even trotted out two members of his Advisory Committee on the Constitution and the Courts to make the case for him in the pages of The National Review:

As the addition of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to the Supreme Court has demonstrated, judicial appointments can be among a president’s most lasting legacies. The judges a president appoints will typically serve well beyond his term of office, interpreting our laws and Constitution for decades to follow. The next president may have the opportunity to appoint at least one justice to the Supreme Court and, like any new administration, will surely face a large number of courts-of-appeal and district-court vacancies.

For that reason, it is critically important to consider what type of individual a presidential candidate would nominate to the bench. We are confident that if elected as president, Governor Romney would appoint individuals to the federal courts who respect the appropriate role of the judiciary in our democratic system.

But as rival Fred Thompson is pointing out, like many of Romney’s pledges, his record on this point doesn’t match his current rhetoric:

Of the 36 lawyers Romney nominated, 23 were registered Democrats or independents who donated to Democratic candidates or voted in Democratic primaries, according to a Boston Globe analysis that was circulated by rival Fred Thompson. Two appointees supported expanding gay rights.

As we noted earlier, such inconsistencies do not appear to be of much concern to many on the Right, because such flip-flopping only makes Romney more beholden to them – or, as Weyrich put it:

I think [Romney] is somebody who is rushing toward the movement trying to present himself as a conservative and in some ways it's more useful to have somebody like that.

The Right Demands Post Flip-Flop Consistency

In early October, Ann Coulter appeared on "Hannity & Colmes" and stated that she has no problem with politicians "flip-flopping" on issues, provided they do so in the right direction:
COLMES: Mitt Romney, the other possible contender, flip-flopped on every issue, has flip-flopped on illegals, flip-flopped on gays... COULTER: He's flipping in my direction. COLMES: But he's flip-flopped. He's changed his position. It depends on what office he's running for in terms of what he says. COULTER: Have I ever said I'm against flip-floppers? ... I just want them to flop in my direction.
With Mitt Romney working to position himself as a consensus candidate for the various right-wing leaders who cannot make up their minds about who to support but know that they will not accept Giuliani, it seems as if this mentality is starting to gain traction:

But [Giuliani's] position on abortion seems to have benefited Mr. Romney, whose new, pro-life position has helped him with religious conservatives. Some say they fear Mr. Giuliani’s pro-choice stance enough to overlook Mr. Romney’s late-in-life conversion.

“If they come around to seeing things our way the last thing we should do, I think, is throw stones at them,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an influential social conservative group. But, he warned, “For whatever reason, the positions Governor Romney has arrived at are his positions, and if he is to remain politically viable in any way, he will have to maintain those positions.”

The latter part of Perkins' statement pretty well sums up Romney's current predicament in that the only reason he is even being considered a legitimate candidate by the Right is because he has done a 180 degree turn away from his record in Massachusetts and blatantly pandered to their agenda. And many on the Right seem perfectly willing to overlook that, provided that Romney remains committed to the post flip-flop positions he now claims to hold. It must be difficult to run for President when the people you have been pandering to suddenly start demanding consistency and accountability.

Romney Faith Impediment to 'Christian Nation' Vision?

In the past, Mitt Romney has blamed the media (along with those “who would like to establish a religion of secularism in this country to replace all others”) for raising questions about whether his Mormonism will hurt his electoral chances—a claim that doesn’t hold water, as we pointed out. A Bloomberg article today makes clear that he might start with his own friends:

“I told him, you cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, ‘I am a Christian just like you,’” said Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, which is scheduled to hold the first primary among the Southern states. “If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.”

So it should be no surprise to see those on the Religious Right who are not on Romney's side kicking up dust. Richard Land, who leans toward Fred Thompson, said Romney is “picking a fight” when he states a basic tenet of his beliefs. “When he goes around and says Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, he ticks off at least half the evangelicals. He's picking a fight he's going to lose,” Land said. In Max Blumenthal’s entertaining video report on the Values Voter Summit, Huckabee booster Janet Folger is heard excitedly denouncing Romney: “I mean take a look at really what he believes. He believes that Jesus Christ is Satan’s brother—are you kidding me?”

“Mitt Romney … is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult,” one prominent Dallas pastor said earlier this month. “It's a little hypocritical for the last eight years to be talking about how important it is for us to elect a Christian president and then turn around and endorse a non-Christian.”

But if Romney can convince the Religious Right that he’ll fight for their political causes, why does it matter what else he believes?

One answer to that is provided by Roy Moore, a staunch proponent of government endorsement of sectarian religion:

“We need more injection of an understanding of God in our political life,” said Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and a potential third-party, anti- abortion presidential candidate. “I am looking for a candidate that understands that this nation is established on a particular God.”

The GOP's Hillary Primary

Mitt Romney may have officially “won” the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit; Mike Huckabee may have been the crowd favorite; and what to do about Rudy Giuliani may have been the biggest question mark; but of all the presidential candidates, the one most talked about at the right-wing conference was Hillary Clinton. “Bill Clinton,” Tom Tancredo warned, is “now measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.” Rep. Jean Schmidt urged Giuliani rejectionists to realize “how important it is that we stand behind whatever candidate comes out that will be her rival, and stand behind that person, whether we agree with all their opinions and values or not. Because if we don’t, you will have that woman in power.”

Libertarian journalism David Weigel, moonlighting at the paleoconservative American Conservative magazine, notes that the visceral hatred many on the Right have for Sen. Clinton could be the only thing that holds the movement and the GOP together, at least in the hopes of Republican strategists:

It’s a balmy, beer-drinking evening in the middle of August, and the conservatives trickling in to a meeting of the Robert A. Taft Club can’t enjoy it. They’re mostly under-30 Washington professionals, and they’re fed up with the Republican Party. They think George W. Bush’s bumbling and ideological hat-trading have reduced the conservative movement to a pitiable, piddling state. If Karl Rove stepped inside, he’d come out looking like Oscar de la Hoya after a bout gone wrong.

They settle into a debate about the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Panelists take turns whipping the party for its sins. “We beat them on immigration,” says Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail pioneer, “but right now, we just don’t have the strength or the resources to affect public policy the way we want to.” He beseeches the crowd to help save the movement, but that gets a muted reaction. So he steps it up: “I still think that in the short term, as many problems as we have right now, Hillary Clinton can bring conservatives back together.”

The name does the trick: soft laughter moves around the room. Keeping Hillary out of the White House is literally the only motivation some conservatives have to pull the Republican lever in 2008, especially if their party nominates a pro-choice candidate for the first time since 1976.

While many Republicans are crossing their fingers that a Clinton nomination will stir up the right-wing id into a frenzy of resentment, bringing back the anti-Clinton rhetoric of the 1990s—whether about Vince Foster or strong women—is not necessarily a recipe for victory. There will always be a core group that feeds off of even the most disgusting anti-Hillary marketing, but as Weigel points out, translating that into broader political success is another matter. GOP hatchet men started Stop Her Now and the Stop Hillary PAC to raise millions to prevent Clinton’s reelection to the Senate in 2006, but they hardly raised thousands. Even the steady stream of anti-Clinton books have fallen flat in sales.

That doesn’t mean it will stop. The Republican National Committee is already running against Clinton. We can probably expect Republican candidates, especially Giuliani, to keep taking Clinton as their de facto running mate unless and until the primaries prove otherwise, providing a foil always good for applause lines.

More on Romney's Cash-Based Momentum

Harper’s correspondent Ken Silverstein has more on Mitt Romney’s efforts to buy his way to the nomination, from the straw poll “ballot-box stuffing” supporters of struggling candidates gripe about, to contributions to South Carolina politicians via his personal PAC, to massive expenditures on consultants. Writes Silverstein:

[B]ased on filings with the Federal Election Commission, as of this summer, Romney’s campaign has employed more than a hundred different consultants, making combined payments to them of at least $11 million—roughly three times the amount spent by John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. …

Romney’s game plan in South Carolina depends on winning a large share of the social-conservative vote, which makes up at least a third, and perhaps even two fifths, of the state’s G.O.P. electorate. To that end, his PAC has also funded the Palmetto Family Council, which, according to its website, “works in the centers of influence (church, government, media, academia, and business) to present biblical principles through research, communication and networking.” Another $5,000 was delivered from Romney’s PAC to an organization sponsoring a statewide ballot initiative, passed in 2006, that added an amendment banning gay marriage to the state constitution. The PAC also sent money to South Carolina Citizens for Life ($500), South Carolina Club for Growth ($1,000), a school-choice group called South Carolinians for Responsible Government ($1,000), a Republican GOTV effort called South Carolina Victory ($2,000), and a group of conservative school-board candidates in Charleston ($2,000) called, humorously enough, “The A-Team.” (One pities the fool who might oppose them.) Moreover, the Romney campaign in June formed a national “faith and values steering committee” that includes four South Carolinians, among them a pastor, Mark White, and a Christian political activist, Dee Benedict. Both White and Benedict—whom Romney also put on the payroll as a consultant—are from upstate, the heart of South Carolina conservatism.

Among Romney’s consultants are well-known religious-right figures like Gary Marx, Jay Sekulow, and former Christian Coalition board member Drew McKissick.

Huckabee Supporters Demand a Recount

“Religious Right Divides Its Vote at Summit” was the headline of the New York Times article on the Values Voter Summit, and indeed, Mitt Romney only edged out Mike Huckabee by a few votes in the straw poll, 1595 to 1565, with other candidates trailing significantly. But that headline had to be a real disappointment for Huckabee boosters, dreaming of pushing him up from the second-tier, who believe that official tally is illegitimate because it allowed FRC members to vote online. Among actual conference-goers, Huckabee, the crowd favorite, walked away with a majority vote, besting Romney 488-99.

Janet Folger, who endorsed Huckabee soon after he won the straw poll at her Values Voter Debate, accused Romney of “ballot-box stuffing”:

Efforts to try and skew the results of the Internet poll, such as the e-mail sent by Mark DeMoss (now on the Romney campaign), complete with a link and instructions to stack it, gained Romney a .5 percent edge for his prominently announced "win." By the way, when that announcement was made following fanfare, including a drum roll, the audience (who were 5-to-1 Huckabee supporters) sat stunned. Had they announced the results of the real grass-roots activists who actually attended the event, we would have heard explosive applause instead of the sound of crickets and the clapping of a few Romney shills.

A harsh allegation, to be sure, but hardly out of character: Romney managed to win the CPAC straw poll last spring solely on the basis of students he sponsored, and he similarly paid for votes at the straw poll in South Carolina. After announcing that he was scaling back his efforts at the Ames, Iowa straw poll, Romney’s campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the best tent and the most buses to ferry Republicans to the event, presumably with their tickets paid in exchange for a vote commitment (as is common at Ames). Considering that membership to FRC Action and the code to vote in that straw poll could be purchased for a $1 donation, this latest effort was a steal. Then there’s money Romney pays to prominent right-wing figures, such as $25,000 to a company owned by Jay Sekulow, who endorsed Romney.

Alabama activist Randy Brinson, head of the state’s reconstituted Christian Coalition chapter as well as a voter mobilization effort and an ally of Huckabee, thinks it’s that kind of cash that keeps people like Tony Perkins pooh-poohing Huckabee’s prospects. From U.S. News:

[Brinson] says he believes that "gatekeepers" like Bauer, Perkins, and Dobson are more interested in Romney or Thompson because their campaigns have money to pay for consultants from the big conservative evangelical organizations, ensuring them access to the White House if either of them wins.

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Mitt Romney Posts Archive

Kyle Mantyla, Friday 08/05/2011, 10:44am
Before last year's Values Voter Summit, we made a concerted effort to hold organizers and participants accountable for willingly sharing the stage with Bryan Fischer, the Religious Right's most unapologetic bigot. Fischer was a featured speaker at the event, just as he had been the year before, and we called upon Republican leaders like Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann who were scheduled to speak alongside of Fischer at the event to take a stand about Fischer's relentless bigotry. Needless to say, they refused to do any such thing and Fischer was given twenty minutes to spew... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Thursday 08/04/2011, 11:33am
As we mentioned yesterday, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann will be joining FRC, the National Organization for Marriage and the Susan B. Anthony List for a ""Values Voter Bus Tour" through Iowa. In kicking off the event, NOM has announced that Santorum, Bachmann, and Mitt Romney have all signed a five-point "Marriage Pledge" [PDF] that includes a promise to establish a "presidential commission" to "investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters": One, support sending a federal constitutional amendment defining... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 08/03/2011, 5:55pm
Miranda @ PFAW Blog: Taking it Back to 1987, Mitt Romney Teams Up with Judge Bork. Jeff Biggers @ Salon: The disturbing copy-and-paste habits of Russell Pearce. Nick @ Bold Faith Type: Witnesses at "Mini-King Hearings" Debunk Rep. Myrick's Muslim Rhetoric. Towleroad: GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia Meets with Head of CPAC Al Cardenas Over Group's Rejection. Scott Keyes @ Think Progress Security: Gaffney Wonders If Norwegian Terrorist’s Manifesto Was A ‘False Flag Operation’ Intended To ‘Suppress... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 07/13/2011, 5:58pm
Andy Birkey @ Minnesota Independent: Religious right rushes to Bachmann’s defense following ‘ex-gay’ reports. Justin Elliott @ Salon: Rick Perry's Confederate past. Sarah Posner @ Religion Dispatches: Neo-Confederates and the Revival of “Theological War” for the “Christian Nation.” Warren Throckmorton: The strange bedfellows involved in Rick Perry’s prayer meeting. Towleroad: Mitt Romney Rejects Conservative Iowa Group's 'Marriage Vow', Calls It 'Undignified and Inappropriate.' Igor Volsky @ ... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 07/13/2011, 1:39pm
Right-wing activist and former California legislator Steve Baldwin has organized an open letter to “Conservative, Catholic and Evangelical Leaders” asking them to refuse support for Mitt Romney’s campaign for president. Already a number of activists including failed US Senate candidate and Tea Party hero Joe Miller; Rick Scarborough of Vision America; Brian Camenker of MassResistance; Linda Harvey of Mission America; Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association; Ted Beahr of WND and Movieguide; Gary Glenn of American Family Association-Michigan, Kelly... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 07/06/2011, 2:19pm
In 2009, Janet Porter of Faith 2 Action organized a right-wing conference in St. Louis called "How To Take Back America" that was co-sponsored by the likes of WorldNetDaily, The American Family Association, Vision America, Liberty Counsel, and WallBuilders.  The keynote speakers at the conference were Mike Huckabee and Rep. Michele Bachmann. The line-up at this conference was so radical that we put together a report on the participants which gave special attention to the truly fringe views espouse by Porter:  It is probably impossible to overstate the extremism and lunacy... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Friday 07/01/2011, 3:19pm
Alan Colmes:  Mitt Romney Claims He Didn’t Say What He Said. Steve Benen: Pawlenty and the line that cannot be crossed. Eric Kleefeld @ TPM: Prosser Grabs Reporter's Microphone, Quickly Hands It Back. Igor Volsky @ Think Progress: Lesbian Houston Mayor Fights Back Against Anti-Gay Opponent: ‘I’m Being Attacked Simply Because I’m A Lesbian.’ Finally, Warren Throckmorton was interveiwed by Brannon Howse yesterday for an informative discussion about David Barton's distortion of history. MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 06/09/2011, 10:01am
While speaking to Rush Limbaugh yesterday, presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum called global warming “patently absurd” and “junk science.” In addition, Santorum said that climate change science was simply a “beautifully concocted scheme” to allow the “government to come in and regulate your life some more.” In 2006, Santorum claimed that “scientists have not decisively concluded” that climate change is real and received a zero percent score from Republicans for Environmental Protection. Later in the program,... MORE >