Although it is still early, the current crop of candidates running for next year’s Republican nomination for president are almost all treating the Religious Right as their first and most important constituency. And that goes beyond the familiar names of right-wing leaders the press likes to call “kingmakers” – such as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell. At this stage, candidates are vying for the attentions of even lesser known radical activists.
This week, four candidates made the pilgrimage to Orlando, Florida for the National Religious Broadcasters convention. Sen. John McCain, who has been working overtime to reach across bridges he burned in 2000, and former Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been struggling to regain the Right’s favor after revelations of past moderation, both held private meetings with far-right activists, and it appears the meetings bore fruit.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who recently organized a protest when House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (a Catholic) attended a Mass to remember the children of Darfur, said McCain “helped himself in that room tremendously today.” The National Right to Life Committee issued a statement from their exhibit booth at the convention to note their approval on McCain’s recent about-face on Roe v. Wade. And Rev. Rob Schenck, head of the National Clergy Council and Faith and Action (with his twin brother Paul), bragged about his face time with the candidates and how pleased he was with their performances:
I was able to get a read of these two men away from the cameras, the reporters and rah-rah audiences. These were honest, candid dialogues on critically important aspects of Governor Romney’s and Senator McCain’s personal and political principles. We got a pretty good assessment of where they are on the key issues for traditional Christians and particularly for Evangelicals. I was impressed by both, but especially Mitt Romney.
Schenck – who once walked out on a Billy Graham crusade after the famous evangelist was introduced by Bill Clinton and who implied that only Christians who are “moral failures” care about peace and justice — cited the same narrow platform as he did in a warning to presidential hopefuls almost a year ago: abortion, gay marriage, and “the public acknowledgement of God.”
Schenck and Mahoney have worked together on a number of creative projects such as organizing a protest (featuring another presidential candidate, Sam Brownback) over the mythical “War on Christmas” and “consecrating” the seats in the Senate hearing room with oil prior to Sam Alito’s confirmation hearing. The pair also attacked “Purpose-Driven Life” author and megachurch pastor Rick Warren for inviting Barack Obama to participate in a global AIDS conference. “Having Senator Barack Obama speak on issues of social justice is like having a segregationist speak on civil rights,” said Mahoney. More recently, Schenck’s National Clergy Council expanded its religious test of Obama with an “examination and debate focused on his faith. Sadly, we will find Mr. Obama’s Christianity woefully deficient.”
So far, no indication that Romney or McCain are at all bothered by their new-found friends’ attacks on the faith of their political opponents.