That is the title of this good piece by NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty on how John McCain managed to go from reviled enemy of the Religious Right to panderer extraordinaire in just eight years.
Hagerty recounts who McCain openly attacked the Right with his “agents of intolerance” remark back in 2000 and how despite Gary Bauer’s efforts to help him adjust the tone and direction of the attack, there was no confusion on the part of Religious Right leaders regarding what he meant:
“It was very hurtful,” recalls Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “When you attack two of their leaders — and those two people were much more important leaders in 2000 than they are today – well, it damaged McCain with a lot of the grassroots.”
And then McCain only compounded the problem this year when he sought the support of John Hagee and Rod Parsley only to reject them when he was forced to answer for their views, something that Richard Land points out only went to show how clueless McCain is about the GOP’s right-wing base:
Land says the controversy showed how little McCain knew the constituency he was trying to woo. “Both of these guys hold positions which anyone who knows evangelical life well would know would be problematic for someone running for national office,” Land says. “I think McCain and his advisers just didn’t know the lay of the land.”
The interesting thing about this, which Land doesn’t mention, is the fact the Right was not mad at McCain for seeking the support of Hagee and Parsley because they held crazy views unrepresentative of the movement, but because he refused to defend them and their views when they came under attack and ultimately dropped them alltogether.
But then McCain finally got his act together, started courting them, saying the things they wanted to hear, and finally gave them the VP nominee they had been dreaming of:
In May, McCain began to court the evangelical leaders he had once disdained, with the help of Bauer, his friend and religious insider. All summer, McCain met privately with leaders and stressed his credentials that he is strongly pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage, a religious conservative by record if not by countenance.
Then he threw the first of two punches.
On Aug. 16, McCain and his Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama agreed to be questioned, separately, by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California. During the televised forum, McCain served up short, definitive answers, just as this evangelical audience wanted it.
Bauer was sitting in the front row.
“Even before the event was over during little breaks for TV,” he recalls, “people were patting me on the shoulder, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, Gary, he’s so much better than I thought he would be. This is wonderful!'”
Two weeks later, McCain delivered his knock-out punch to Obama’s hopes for winning traditional evangelicals when he announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
At that moment, some 250 evangelical leaders were meeting in Minneapolis. Land, who was there, says they jumped to their feet and cheered.
“The first appointment in a supposed McCain admin is who he picked for vice president,” Land says. “And he picked someone who is a rock star among pro-lifers, Catholic and Protestant. There’s not a pro-life activist in the country who didn’t know exactly who Sarah Palin was before John McCain ever picked her as his vice president.”
And that is how John McCain shed his pariah status among Evangelicals – by completely caving to their demands.