During the course of the group's weekend meeting last month, a smaller group of marquee movement leaders held their own gathering to discuss what might be done if former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- a lukewarm supporter of abortion rights and gay rights -- wins the Republican Party's 2008 nomination.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll, taken from Sept. 27-30, placed Giuliani easily at the head of the pack, with 30 percent support among self-identified Republicans -- twice that of the next lead contender, former Sen. Fred Thompson, who had 15 percent.
None of the other top-tier Republican candidates -- Thompson, Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- have garnered enthusiastic support from leaders of the religious right.
Attendees of the smaller gathering included James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, one of the nation's largest ministries; Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based lobbying group; Richard Viguerie, the right-wing guru of direct mail, who recently authored "Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Republican Base"; James Clymer, chairman of the U.S. Constitution Party, a relatively small conservative party; and a host of other Christian conservative leaders.
Viguerie told ABC News that the meeting was attended by "nationally known conservative leaders, and we took a very strong stand against supporting any pro-abortion candidate."
"Giuliani is beyond the pale," Viguerie said. "It's just not going to happen. There's no way that conservative leaders are going to support a pro-abortion candidate. It was unanimous."
Before last fall's midterm elections, Viguerie declared that a Republican loss might be "cathartic," providing an opportunity for conservative evangelicals within the party. He pointed out that, "In the last six months, I've seen a vast majority of my colleagues, at the national level, move in that direction, including a willingness to go third-party. They're even further along on the third-party idea than I am."
According to the New York Times, "almost everyone present at the smaller group's meeting expressed support for a written resolution stating that 'if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate, we will consider running a third-party candidate,' participants said."
An unsigned piece posted at WorldNetDaily.com -- a conservative online news site -- noted that "Not only was there a consensus among activists to withhold support for the Republican nominee, there was even discussion about supporting the entry of a new candidate to challenge the frontrunners."
Gary Bauer, the head of AmericanValues and a former candidate for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, participated in the smaller group discussion by phone. He later issued a statement urging his colleagues to "be cautious," since he couldn't "think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives, than Hillary Clinton in the White House."
Bauer also noted that "there are certain core issues for the Republican Party -- low taxes, strong defense, and pro-life -- and if we nominate someone who is hostile on one of those three things, it will blow up the GOP."
There's no question that the leaking of information about the "secret" meeting has created media buzz. It is less clear, however, whether the well-placed leak was intentionally concocted to force the party into rejecting Giuliani.
"The idea that the Christian right would endorse a third-party candidate is ludicrous, given its pathological need to defeat Hillary Clinton and ultimately maintain sway over the White House," wrote Sarah Posner, a freelance journalist who has followed the right for a long time, in The American Prospect.
In this coalition of the unwilling, Dr. James Dobson is the man to watch. During the past several months he has nixed supporting McCain because the Arizona senator didn't support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He questioned Thompson's religious commitment and recently stated in an e-mail to supporters that Thompson "has no passion, no zeal. ... And yet he is apparently the great hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!"
Dobson also said he would rather sit out the election than vote for Giuliani, whom he called an "unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand."
Bear in mind that Dobson has been down this road before. He periodically threatens to bolt from the party over one issue or another. The threat could be seen as a way to force the party into putting a candidate acceptable to the Christian right, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, on the ticket as vice president. Huckabee, who has performed well in recent polls but is still sitting in the second tier of candidates, is a Baptist minister who opposes abortion and gay marriage, making him an attractive candidate to Dobson and his friends.
Successful political movements encounter their ups and downs. Key leaders pass on, member organizations overreach and lose their focus, the unaffiliated public loses interest in what they're selling, and internal differences develop.
The threat leveled by Dobson and other leaders of the Christian right against the Republican Party could be seen as a politically savvy stare-down, or a desperate attempt to hold onto the levers of power within the party. Dobson is betting that Republican officials will blink.
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Albion Monitor October
5, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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