It was at a Council for National Policy meeting back in September that the Goldilocks brigade of the Religious Right, led by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, threatened to break away from the Republican Party if Rudy Giuliani won the nomination. And the CNP meeting in March was one of John McCain’s first stops after securing the GOP mantle—continuing his pandering to the fringe.
Now, Warren Cole Smith of the conservative-Christian World magazine relates a tense scene from the CNP meeting:
Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an early supporter of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chided the group for cold-shouldering his candidate until it was too late. Others, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, disagreed. The meeting quickly threatened to dissolve into accusations, rebuttals, and recriminations.
Then, venerable Paul Weyrich—a founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the Council for National Policy (CNP)—raised his hand to speak. Weyrich is a man whose mortality is plain to see. A freak accident several years ago left him with a spinal injury, which ultimately led to both his legs being amputated in 2005. He now gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He is visibly paler and grayer than he was just a few years ago, a fact not lost on many of his friends in the room, some of whom had fought in the political trenches with him since the 1960s.
The room—which had been taken over by argument and side-conversations—became suddenly quiet. Weyrich, a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong.”
In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.
Weyrich (much to Janet Folger’s delight) essentially validated Huckabee’s constant complaint about religious-right leaders not supporting one of their own. But with Huckabee gone, these activists (like Folger) appear ready to settle for McCain, at least for the sake of the Supreme Court, as Ohio activist Phil Burress put it:
With the election now just over six months away, he told the New Orleans gathering, “McCain wasn’t my first choice, and I’m not sure about him now, but we’ve got a zero chance of getting a conservative Supreme Court justice out of either Clinton or Obama. I don’t know whether we’ve got a 25 percent chance, or a 50 percent chance, or a 100 percent chance with McCain—but it’s better than zero, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help get him elected. He’s our best shot.”
And what about Dobson, who led the bluff about abandoning the GOP, and whom McCain called an “agent of intolerance” back in 2000? Like the others, Dobson kept his distance from Huckabee, only endorsing the former Arkansas governor when it was basically too late—while reiterating that he would never vote for McCain.
Now Dobson—who voted for a third-party candidate rather than Republican Bob Dole in 1996—is apparently opening the door for McCain. “I will certainly vote,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity.
“I think we have a God-given responsibility to vote, and there are all of the candidates and the issues down the ballot that we have an obligation to weigh in on and let our voices be heard.”
Dr. Dobson, speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of Focus on the Family, as he always does when discussing political candidates, added that he “has problems” with all three major presidential contenders, especially the Democrats.
What’s the price? Dobson wants McCain to change his position on embryonic stem-cell research. “[Y]ou can’t really call yourself pro-life if you’re in favor of killing those babies,” he said. After McCain’s years-long courtship of the Religious Right, that doesn’t seem like much more to ask.