And with that, we can officially write off the religious right as a viable political movement in this country.
Steven Thomma lays out the current landscape:
Today, their nearly three-decade-long ascendance in the Republican Party is over. Their loyalties and priorities are in flux, the organizations that gave them political muscle are in disarray, the high-profile preachers who led them to influence through the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation that’s less interested in their agenda and their hold on politics and the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is in doubt.
"Less than four years after declarations that the Religious Right had taken over the Republican Party, these social conservatives seem almost powerless to influence its nomination process," said W. James Antle III, an editor at the American Spectator magazine who’s written extensively about religious conservatives.
"They have the numbers. They have the capability. What they don’t have is unity or any institutional leverage."
The Religious Right never had absolute power in the Republican Party. It never got the Republican president and Republican Congress to pursue a constitutional amendment banning abortion, for example.
But it did have enormous clout in party politics and a big voice in policy, and it’s lost much of both heading into 2008.
There is ample evidence for this. The highly-secretive Council for National Policy, made up of many heavy-hitters from the religious right and conservative movement in general, met over the weekend in Utah. While participants at these gatherings are usually tight-lipped, yesterday attendees were dishing quite a bit about the CNP’s thoughts on the 2008 presidential election.
The message wasn’t subtle: the religious right won’t support the Republican ticket if Rudy Giuliani is the nominee, even if that means backing a third-party candidate.
The threat emerged from a group that broke away for separate discussions at a meeting Saturday in Salt Lake City of the Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative networking group. Participants said the smaller group included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps its most influential member; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail pioneer; and dozens of other politically oriented conservative Christians.
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.
The participants said that the group chose the qualified term “consider” because it had not yet identified an alternative candidate, but that it was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, became the nominee.
Are they bluffing? It’s hard to say. But it seems clear that, having publicly staked their anti-Rudi position, the religious right simply can’t support him as is later down the road. Assuming Rudi takes the GOP nomination, then the religious right will either have to spend an enormous amount of money and resources trying to bring Rudi’s policies around, or back some third party candidate my guess — former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore). Either way, the Dems win.
Ed Morrissey of the conservative Captain’s Quarters agrees:
If the Christian Right did the same by organizing a third party, they may as well write themselves off as a significant force in American politics. They have plenty of candidates to support in the primaries, including Mike Huckabee, who matches up well with their platform. If they can’t get Huckabee nominated within the system, then the faction should acknowledge that the party made a different choice and support the end result of the primary process. If they cannot do that, no one in Republican politics will ever trust them, and their influence will wane substantially.
These leaders may even damage their influence within their own faction. Right now, Giuliani receives a significant amount of support from the very Evangelicals for whom James Dobson and Tony Perkins speak. If they call for the formation of a third party to oppose Giuliani’s nomination and these voters do not follow them, they will find themselves very lonely in political circles, and the Council for National Policy along with them. Republicans have already figured out that Presidents can’t do much about abortion except appoint strict-constructionist judges, which Rudy has pledged to do already, and that other issues hold more significance in this election — like war, taxes, spending, and beating Hillary Clinton.
Republicans don’t need petulance from its internal factions. Primaries exist for these groups to make their best case to the voters, and the voters decide which candidate fits their agendas. Threatening to take one’s ball and go home doesn’t build respect or confidence in any faction, and it’s getting old from this particular one, even among its own members. The Christian Right needs to find a primary candidate to endorse and make its best case — and then make a mature and intelligent decision about the general election if they lose the primaries.
Somehow, given the psychological make-up of these people, I don’t expect them to compromise. How can you compromise when you believe that God is on your side? Sorry, but the righteous (and self-righteous), "compromise" is not a word you know.
Digby has some additional thoughts.