McCain’s Delicate Dance

With John McCain seemingly poised to emerge from Super Tuesday as the de facto front runner in the Republican primary, the question will become just how much he intends to try and make nice with the Religious Right base that does not much like him.

As the McCain campaign admitted last year, his previous efforts to win them over were entirely half-hearted and purely political, but now that he might very well become the nominee, it looks as if some on the Right might be starting to warm up to him out of political necessity:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain today publicly thanked two prominent conservative Christian leaders who have rallied to his defense in recent days.

“I was very pleased to see comments made by people like Tony Perkins and Dr. Richard Land,” McCain told reporters after a rally in Nashville, Tennessee. “I appreciate the words that they have been using.”

Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a conservative public policy group, and Land, a leader in the 16- million member Southern Baptist Convention, have criticized McCain in the past. Perkins told the New York Times that he has “no residual issue with John McCain,” while Land told the newspaper McCain “is strongly pro-life.”

But even in accepting this praise, McCain went out of his way to make it clear that it was not he who did the reaching out :

“I will continue to reach out to all parts of the party but I did not call anyone,” the Arizona senator said today. McCain’s acknowledgement that he is not proactively reaching out to conservative leaders comes a day after he told reporters that he doesn’t listen to conservative Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

Should he win the GOP nomination, McCain will undoubtedly change his tune on this issue – but quotes like this won’t be easily forgotten

McCain seems distinctly uninterested when asked questions concerning abortion and gay rights. While campaigning in South Carolina, he told reporters riding with him on his bus that he was comfortable pledging to appoint judges who would strictly interpret the Constitution in part because it would reassure conservatives who might otherwise distrust him.

“It’s not social issues I care about,” he explained.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that right-wing activists who care only about social issues are attacking him, such as BOND’s Jesse Lee Peterson, Faith and Action’s Rob Schenck, Janet Folger’s RoeGone front group, and various others:

“Most Texans I know think that McCain is the second-least desirable candidate” among all those who ran this year and with Rudy Giuliani out, he’s now officially the worst, says Cathie Adams, head of Texas Eagle Forum. “McCain’s policies are awful.”

“He is no conservative. Yes, maybe on the war, although many of us are not happy about the war,” said Mitt Romney supporter Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation and a founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. “McCain hates strong conservatives. McCain hates the religious right. Thus far he has made no overtures to us.”

When it comes down to it, McCain needs the Right if he hopes to win the presidency – and some of the Religious Right’s political leaders seems to realize that they might have the upper hand at the moment, with Tony Perkins saying that what happens between McCain and the Right going forward entirely “depends on how bad he wants to be president. Really it does.”