In a press call this morning, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins downplayed recent talk about religious-right leaders threatening to bolt the GOP for a third-party presidential candidate. Perkins, promoting FRC’s Values Voter Summit in Washington next weekend, said he was “optimistic” that the GOP field would “solidify” and a candidate acceptable to the Right would emerge out of the conference’s straw poll.
Rudy Giuliani’s decision to participate in the FRC event threatens to deflate this optimism, however. If Giuliani gets significant support from among the FRC members participating in the straw poll—as he has from among the national constituency these leaders claims to represent—then the threats by James Dobson and others to spoil the election could fall flat. “I’m not saying he won’t get some social conservative support,” cautioned Perkins, “but some social conservative support is not enough to win.” Despite Perkins’ claim that Giuliani will receive a “cordial” reception, we can expect many speakers—not just other candidates—to directly or indirectly attack, in Perkins’ phrase, “the pro-abortion rights candidate.”
And while some right-wing activists are hoping that the Religious Right will coalesce around one of their second-tier favorites—such as Mike Huckabee—Perkins seemed to downplay that option, panning them as unacceptable to economic- and foreign policy-oriented Republicans. In fact, Perkins spoke glowingly of Mitt Romney, saying that “in my opinion, [he’s] the strongest on these core social issues”—and not only that, but his “conversion” on wedge issues has been “genuine.” In fact, Perkins said Romney is stronger than Huckabee and the others on such issues.
During the campaign cycle, he has made these issues more front-and-center in his message than I think other candidates who are social conservatives have, I mean that have a track record of social conservatism. I think he has staked out ground on these issues so much so that he would have a very difficult time ever backing away from them; he would lose all credibility. He has really brought emphasis to these issues. And I do think, yes, more than Mike Huckabee and some of the others.
Meanwhile, Alan Keyes can’t get no respect. Despite his wide-open schedule, he’s not on the list of speakers at the Values Voter Summit; nevertheless, FRC’s Charmaine Yoest declared that “we have all of the major GOP candidates.”