It is hard to overstate the shockwave that John McCain sent through the GOP’s right-wing base with his comments earlier this week that he would not rule out the possibility of naming a pro-choice running mate (though not a pro-gay one, of course).
Right-wing leaders were quick to denounce the statement, with Tony Perkins telling the Washington Times yesterday that “if he picks a pro-choice running mate, I don’t see how he can win this race.” And today, Phyllis Schlafly weighed in, calling it a “mistake,” and others obviously share that assessment:
“If Tom Ridge is on the ticket, I will not be voting Republican,” Home School Legal Defense Association President Mike Farris said told The Washington Times. He thought for a moment, then added: “I won’t be voting Democratic either.”
The widely influential founder and chairman of the American Family Association Chairman, Donald P. Wildmon, said a Ridge pick would be a “disaster for Republicans.”
Concerned Women for America Chairman Beverly LaHaye said “many will walk” away from the Republican ticket if it includes a pro-choice vice president.
Elsewhere, state-based right-wing leaders, many of whom have had personal meetings with McCain, are likewise making their displeasure known:
“It absolutely floored me,” said Phil Burress, head of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values. “It would doom him in Ohio.”
Burress emailed about a dozen “pro-family leaders” he knows outside Ohio and forwarded it to three McCain aides tasked with Christian conservative outreach.
“That choice will end his bid for the presidency and spell defeat for other Republican candidates,” Burress wrote in the message.
He and other Ohio conservatives met privately with McCain in June, and while the nominee didn’t promise them an anti-abortion rights running mate, his staff said they could “almost guarantee” that would be the case, Burress recalled.
Now, Burress said, “he’s not even sure [Christian conservatives] would vote for him let alone work for him if he picked a pro-abortion running mate.”
James Muffett, head of Michigan’s Citizens for Traditional Values, met with McCain along with a handful of other Michigan-based social conservatives Wednesday night.
To select a running mate who supports abortion rights would be “wrong-headed, short-sighted, fracture the Republican Party and not allow us to capitalize on the Democratic Party’s fracture right now,” Muffett argued.
“If he does that, it makes our job 100 times harder. It would dampen enthusiasm at a time when evangelicals are looking for ways to gin up enthusiasm.”
McCain, Muffett said, got that message in their meeting.
“Some people in the movement say it would be the kiss of death. He heard that in the room last night.”
Predictably, Gary Bauer – one of McCain’s earliest right-wing supporters who seems to only show up when the candidate does something to anger Bauer’s right-wing allies – appeared on the scene to assure them that there was nothing to worry about:
Gary Bauer, founder of the Campaign for Working Families, said he isn’t worried.
“I’m confident that at the end of the day, the running mate will be pro-life,” he told Family News in Focus.
McCain has a solid pro-life voting record on abortion issues and has promised to appoint “strict constructionists” to the Supreme Court.