McCain’s Pastor Problem Foreshadows Conflict

Soon after breaking with televangelist John Hagee, John McCain rejected another right-wing pastor who had campaigned with him, Rod Parsley. While Parsley, like Hagee, subsequently withdrew his endorsement, it remains to be seen whether he will put his Ohio-based “Patriot Pastors” machine in motion on behalf of the Republican candidate before November.

But the McCain campaign may be more concerned about fallout greater than these two pastors and their television audiences. In working for the Hagee endorsement and incorporating Parsley into the campaign, McCain was no doubt hoping to solidify the Religious Right credibility he has been sweating over for the past two years. While Hagee and Parsley are influential and well-connected, meeting with the president and lobbying Congress, they are active primarily outside of D.C., in the megachurch, “prosperity gospel” world of Trinity Broadcasting Network. As this blog and others revealed some of the pastors’ rough edges—just a sample—McCain was forced to walk a fine line between losing his “maverick” reputation among independent voters and alienating the right-wing base he feels he needs.

McCain’s decision to dump Parsley and Hagee has prompted some warning shots from the Right. “This move may cost him the mainstream evangelical vote. At the very least it will make the Senator suspect to other pastors and millions of unconvinced believers,” wrote Bishop Harry Jackson, who added that the two televangelists have “10 times the outreach muscle” of Barack Obama’s controversial ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Star Parker wrote, “John McCain wants Americans to elect him to provide tough leadership in a dangerous world. But when it just takes some mud slung from a few left-wing websites to drive him under a rock, you have to wonder.”

And Gary Bauer, an ally to both McCain and Hagee, said that “radical left” blogs managed to “drive a wedge” between evangelicals and McCain.

But as CBN’s David Brody reports, the McCain campaign is at the same time stepping up its efforts to woo the Religious Right by running weekly meetings with Bauer and other activists and consulting right-wing groups such as the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum. Brody writes:

Look, here’s the bottom line: The McCain campaign is gearing up for a true battle over Evangelicals this fall. They are NOT taking them for granted. They know they have work to do but what we are seeing here is a ramped up effort that is fully supported by the head guy, John McCain. The Hagee endorsement and subsequent retraction was not the campaign’s best moment but the system they have in place now is starting to make headway.

It’s likely McCain’s efforts will pay off in getting the support, explicit or implicit, of the Religious Right groups and activists who have long wedded their politics to the GOP’s—especially if he keeps meeting their demands on judges and other issues. But as they continue to pull McCain to the right, the conflict between the base and independent voters—the conflict McCain saw with Hagee and Parsley—will expand.