As we noted before, the Right was positively thrilled with both John McCain’s performance and Rick Warren’s faith forum as a whole. But even we didn’t fully realize the extent to which this event seems to have fundamentally transformed the Religious Right’s heretofore tepid support into a full-blown fever:
Several conservative activists identified McCain’s response to the question, “What point is a baby entitled to human rights?” as his finest moment of the evening.
McCain replied quickly: “At the moment of conception,” and continued: “I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president.”
“He was just right out of the box,” said Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life. “McCain was so incredibly decisive and he was so clear in his answers. There was no gray area.”
“They feel like this is the start of John McCain’s coming out, in terms of embracing the conservative evangelicals,” Andrews said, comparing the event to the 2000 primary debate in which George W. Bush named Jesus Christ as the philosopher who had influenced him most.
According to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Christian conservatives were especially eager to hear this message from McCain.
“I think they needed to hear it and they needed to hear it when the question was asked in that way, that protections need to come at the moment of conception,” Land said. “That removes all doubt.”
The importance of McCain’s performance at the Saddleback Church, then, was to show religious conservatives that the candidate genuinely cared about their issues.
“People were, before, just kind of wringing their hands thinking, what kind of mess do we have here, what kind of choice do we have,” Perkins said. “I think he stopped the … ambivalence that was out there toward John McCain.”
Andrews agreed, explaining: “When they see McCain’s actual position and him talking about it, it makes a difference, instead of looking at roll call tallies.”
“McCain’s performance was so genuine and so real,” Bell added. “This became clearly, no longer that, ‘This is the best of the two choices,’ and moved from that over to, ‘This is a great, great candidate that we need to get behind.’”
Of course, McCain’s new-found support could still all be wiped out if he chooses a running mate who does not meet the Right’s requirements:
“The party will just implode” if McCain makes such a choice, Perkins warned. “[Social conservatives] are going to have to know that he’s totally committed to these issues, and that’s going to require a running mate that has an even better ability to communicate with the base than John McCain has.”