Empty Threats

Remember a few months ago when some on the Right, especially James Dobson, were threatening Republicans that there would be negative electoral repercussions unless the GOP worked harder to promote the right-wing agenda?

Some of President Bush’s most influential conservative Christian allies are becoming openly critical of the White House and Republicans in Congress, warning that they will withhold their support in the midterm elections unless Congress does more to oppose same-sex marriage, obscenity and abortion. 


In the last several weeks, Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential Christian conservatives, has publicly accused Republican leaders of betraying the social conservatives who helped elect them in 2004. He has also warned in private meetings with about a dozen of the top Republicans in Washington that he may turn critic this fall unless the party delivers on conservative goals. 

Dr. Dobson, whose daily radio broadcast has millions of listeners, has already signaled his willingness to criticize Republican leaders. In a recent interview with Fox News on the eve of a visit to the White House, he accused Republicans of “just ignoring those that put them in office.”

Dr. Dobson cited the House’s actions on two measures that passed over the objections of social conservatives: a hate-crime bill that extended protections to gay people, and increased support for embryonic stem cell research.

“There’s just very, very little to show for what has happened,” Dr. Dobson said, “and I think there’s going to be some trouble down the road if they don’t get on the ball.”

Since then, the Republicans haven’t accomplished much in terms of opposing same-sex marriage, obscenity or abortion – but Dobson seems to have realized the symbiotic nature of his relationship with the GOP and has quietly abandoned his petulant threats

As discontent with the Republican Party threatens to dampen the turnout of conservative voters in November, evangelical leaders are launching a massive registration drive that could help counter the malaise and mobilize new religious voters in battleground states. 

The program, coordinated by the Colorado-based group Focus on the Family and its influential founder, James C. Dobson, would use a variety of methods — including information inserted in church publications and booths placed outside worship services — to recruit millions of new voters in 2006 and beyond. 

The effort builds on the aggressive courtship of evangelical voters in 2004 by President Bush’s reelection campaign, even as the Internal Revenue Service has announced renewed scrutiny of nonprofit organizations, including churches, that engage in political activities.  

The new voter registration program puts a special focus this year on eight states with key Senate, House and state-level races. Turning out core voters is central to the GOP strategy to retain control of Congress, especially as the party struggles with negative public sentiment over the war in Iraq and other administration policies.  

“Any time you go from a big presidential year like 2004 to an off-year like this, there’s going to be a drop-off” in voter interest, said John Paulton of Focus on the Family Action, the political arm of Focus on the Family. “It’s a question of how much. You could argue that the fear of what could happen if many more liberal politicians take over could be very motivating to get out and vote as strongly.”

The program, announced in an e-mail to activists last week, is seeking county and church coordinators in the targeted states of Maryland, Montana, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota. 

“In 2004, about 25 million evangelicals failed to vote. Now is the time to reverse the trend,” the e-mail said.

It is hard to take seriously anyone who threatens to GOP with “trouble down the road” and shortly thereafter gets back to work mobilizing millions of voters on the party’s behalf.