The Right’s Half-Hearted Support For McCain

Matt Taibbi, fresh off his time undercover at John Hagee’s church, returns to the pages of Rolling Stone to chronicle John McCain’s on-going struggle to win over the Christian Right. Taibbi tracked down Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel who was deeply involved in the July meeting in Colorado where a variety of right-wing heavy-hitter decided to finally  back McCain because they basically had no other option and then issued their own “Declaration of American Values” which, Staver tells Taibbi, they want to make clear was not a declaration of support for McCain:

It’s McCain’s newfound status as the lesser of two evils that recently won him a previously unthinkable triumph — the pledged support of more than 100 Christian groups who met in Denver on July 1st to create a so-called “Declaration of American Values.” Organized by Mat Staver, chairman of the fundamentalist group Liberty Counsel, the declaration was an attempt to reunite a Christian right that, as Staver tells me, had suffered “through a fractious primary season. There were a lot of hurt feelings.” The group — which included notables on the religious right like Phyllis Schlafly and Tim Lahaye — settled on a list of 10 basic principles, including the perennial sanctity of life and anti-gay-marriage stuff, as well as some weirder and less biblically obvious demands supporting unfettered gun ownership and opposing taxation “of a progressive nature.”

And while the group came out in support of McCain, Staver is anxious that this not be interpreted as a broad expression of enthusiasm by the Christian right. “Uh, the media somewhat didn’t accurately report that,” he says with obvious fright in his voice. “This wasn’t a Declaration of American Values in support of John McCain. This was a statement of support for those core values.” It was agreed, Staver clarifies, that supporting McCain in this election was merely the best choice for the “short term.” And the reason for that, he says, is that the election of Barack Obama would “decimate American values.” From there, Staver is off and running about Obama’s record on abortion rights and gay marriage, and how generally an Obama election would bring about the end of civilization; he said almost nothing about McCain.

This is a point Staver seems eager to get across, as he told the same thing to Dan Gilgoff back in July, explaining that their support for McCain was done out of political necessity and is aimed at asserting their influence within the Republican Party in order to try and prevent this sort of situation in the future: 

Last week’s decision by nearly 100 conservative Christian activists meeting in Denver to coalesce around presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain was a major coup for a candidate whose relationship with the Christian Right has been famously stormy. But the Denver meeting’s organizer, Mathew Staver–founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law–says the activists’ new unity around McCain should not be taken as evidence of a stepped-up religious outreach effort by the Arizona senator, or as a sign that evangelicals are warming to him personally.

In fact, Staver said in an interview yesterday that much of the Denver meeting was focused on building a long-term strategy for the Christian Right to avoid getting stuck with another figure like McCain.

Taibbi also relates this anecdote, which suggests either that James Dobson has changed his mind once again on whether he’ll support McCain or that his spokesman can’t keep track of his waffling:

As a result, the most influential leaders on the Christian right are keeping their distance. “Uh, no,” says a spokesman for Focus on the Family, when I ask if Dobson has changed his mind about McCain, even with Obama on the ticket. “He hasn’t changed his mind. No way.”