Heading into the recent Values Voter Summit, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was careful to make clear that it was unlikely that any one candidate would emerge from the event as the Right’s candidate of choice, thus rescuing them from their current dilemma and confusion. But he also predicted that the event would at least help narrow down the field a bit:
“These are the influencers, these are the talkers,” Perkins said of the attendees that will take over the Washington Hilton hotel. “This could be when things start to shake out and a candidate begins to emerge with a certain level of support. I don’t think anybody’s going to walk away with a lock, but maybe one or two candidates, maybe three, will begin to take off with strong support from the base.”
The one candidate who got the biggest boost from the Summit was Mike Huckabee, who came in second place in the straw poll and was the overwhelming favorite among those in attendance – something which, oddly enough, only seems to have confused things further:
The influential social conservatives who comprise the Arlington Group met over the weekend to discuss the possibility of endorsing a presidential candidate and could not reach a consensus, according to a source familiar with the process.
Though leaders of the individual organizations may make their own endorsements, those selections “cannot be considered a blanket endorsement by the ‘Religious Right,'” according to the source.
While many leaders want to endorse fan favorite Mike Huckabee, others are more hesitant. The source informed me that “the dilemma is over whether to choose the preferred candidate of their constituents or go with the pragmatic choice and risk offending our base.”
According to the source, James Dobson of Focus on the Family likes Mitt Romney, Gary Bauer of American Values prefers Fred Thompson, and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association likes Huckabee. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is still on the fence, but nearing a decision.
In fact, very little has changed: Supporting McCain or Giuliani was never much of a possibility and the right-wing leadership has always been torn between Romney, Thompson, and, to a lesser extent, Huckabee. The only new development is that some are becoming more willing to openly back Huckabee:
Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values and member of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, declined to talk about the meeting but said he has personally decided to support Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister. Another well-respected Christian conservative leader, Kelly Shackleford, a Texas lawyer, is also expected to come out on behalf of Mr. Huckabee in the coming days.
Given his rock-solid right-wing record, the fact that some leaders are willing to back Huckabee is to be expected – but it appears as if his strong performance at the Summit is changing the overall dynamic:
Huckabee’s rock star reception at the Value Voters Summit made things more difficult.
Interestingly, the source described a “new pragmatic narrative” that may be forming: “None of the top-tier can beat Hillary anyway so why risk offending the base by snubbing Huckabee?”
Either way, social conservative leaders are in a bind.
“If we don’t support Huckabee we tick off religious conservatives,” the source lamented. “If we push Huckabee we tick off everyone else. It’s a tough situation to be in.”
While there is an effort afoot to convince the right-wing leadership to rally behind Romney in order to stop Giuliani, there now appears to be another effort afoot to rally these same leaders behind Huckabee in order to simply avoid angering their own activists.