Calling Dobson’s Bluff

For months now, right-wing leaders and organizations have been in disarray as they struggle to maintain and exert their influence within the Republican Party while facing a primary campaign dominated by candidates who don’t excite them. 

While John McCain has been persona non grata ever since he attacked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance” during his last presidential run, Mitt Romney has been blasted by some on the Right for everything from flip-flopping on issues to ties to pornography to his Mormon faith while Fred Thompson’s only major accomplishment since entering the race has been to quickly lose his position as the Right’s political savior, failing to win over the Arlington Group and being written off entirely by James Dobson (though some, like Richard Land, remain avid Thompson boosters).

It seems that, as of now, the only thing the leaders of the Religious Right seem able to agree on is that they don’t like, and will not support, Rudy Giuliani:

A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.

The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives. James Clymer, the chairman of the U.S. Constitution Party, was also present at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the proceedings.

“The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party,” said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. “Dobson came in just for this meeting,” the person said.

Of course, this is not the first time Dobson has made this sort of threat:

Conservative Christian Leader Accuses Republicans of Betrayal

12 February 1998

The New York Times

At a closed-door convention of conservative leaders in Arizona last week, James Dobson, who heads the multimedia ministry Focus on the Family, warned that if the Republican Congress continued to ”betray” conservative evangelical voters, he would abandon the Republican Party and ”do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible.”

These are the same voters who swept Republicans into Congress in the 1994 elections, but are now so disillusioned, Dr. Dobson said, that the Republican Party ”has laid the foundation for a revolution, and I don’t think they even know it because they’re so out of touch with the people I’m talking about.”

Presumably, Dobson has no real intention of bolting the GOP, but is rather seeking to throw his weight around and watch the Republican Party panic as it attempts to appease him, just as they did back in 1998:

In response to Dobson’s complaints, then-Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson met with so-called pro-family groups. Dobson toured Washington, visiting Congressional leaders, and in a letter to longtime political ally then-Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) listed his legislative demands, which included: cutting off government funding to Planned Parenthood and other “pro-abortion organizations,” eliminating “so-called safe-sex and condom distribution programs,” passing parental consent laws pertaining to both abortion and contraception, banning human cloning, ending funding of fetal tissue research programs, and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts. He also voiced support for government funding of religious education via school vouchers, the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and a ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion.”

In a reflection of just how much influence Dobson held at this point, the GOP vowed to hold floor votes on the issues he raised.

Issuing this sort of empty threat seems to be something of a pattern with Dobson who, back in 2006, warned the GOP that there would be “some trouble down the road if they don’t get on the ball” in terms of pushing the Right’s agenda and then turned around and launched voter registration drives and rallies designed to help elect Republican candidates. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the one thing the Right fears more than Giuliani winning the GOP nomination is Giuliani winning the nomination and then winning the general election without their support, which would weaken their influence and power within the party.  And in order to assure that they are never faced with that possibility, right-wing leaders appear willing to do whatever it takes to topple their own party’s frontrunner

As Chris Bowers noted, the Right seems intent on upholding “The Iron Law of Institutions”:

The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.