McCain Courts the Council for National Policy

Fresh off his endorsements from John Hagee and his stumping around Iowa with Rod Parsley, John McCain’s outreach to the Right appears to be picking up steam:

FOX NEWS HAS LEARNED that in New Orleans on Friday John McCain makes a major speech to the influential and little known Council for National Policy. The CNP is an umbrella organization of influential social and religious conservative groups.

What is the Council for National Policy, you ask? 

The council was founded in 1981, just as the modern conservative movement began its ascendance. The Rev. Tim LaHaye, an early Christian conservative organizer and the best-selling author of the ”Left Behind” novels about an apocalyptic Second Coming, was a founder. His partners included Paul Weyrich, another Christian conservative political organizer who also helped found the Heritage Foundation.

They said at the time that they were seeking to create a Christian conservative alternative to what they believed was the liberalism of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Back when it first formed, the CNP was linked to the Iran-Contra scandal though, most recently, it generated media attention after many of its members threatened to bolt the GOP if Rudy Giuliani won the nomination.  Despite the organization’s penchant for secrecy, they are perhaps best known as being the organization George W. Bush addressed back in 1999 where he reportedly promised to appoint only anti-abortion-rights judges to the Supreme Court and then both he and the CNP refused to release the audio tape of his remarks.

Fox News reports that, unlike Bush’s address, McCain’s will be released but that remains to be seen, since the CNP has never been particularly interested in openness or transparency:

Three times a year for 23 years, a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country have met behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference, the Council for National Policy, to strategize about how to turn the country to the right.

Details are closely guarded.

”The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before of after a meeting,” a list of rules obtained by The New York Times advises the attendees.

The membership list is ”strictly confidential.” Guests may attend ”only with the unanimous approval of the executive committee.” In e-mail messages to one another, members are instructed not to refer to the organization by name, to protect against leaks.

The secrecy that surrounds the meeting and attendees like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and the head of the National Rifle Association, among others, makes it a subject of suspicion, at least in the minds of the few liberals aware of it.

The membership list this year was a who’s who of evangelical Protestant conservatives and their allies, including Dr. Dobson, Mr. Weyrich, Holland H. Coors of the beer dynasty; Wayne LaPierre of the National Riffle Association, Richard A. Viguerie of American Target Advertising, Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Committee and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

While there is no mention of McCain’s appearance before the group on his schedule or website, it seems that the McCain camp realized that sneaking off to woo the Right might undermine his reputation as a straight-talkin’ maverick and decided to clue the press in ahead of time in an effort to avoid the sort of controversy that plagued Bush back in 2000:

CNP does not publicize its meetings, speakers or agenda, but the McCain campaign informed the press of his agreement to address the council. As a result, reporters following the McCain campaign deluged the council with requests for coverage.

“We agreed the press could sit in a separate room and listen to the speech and the questions and answers,” a CNP official said, speaking anonymously because the rules of the council forbid officials or members to speak by name in public.