Political Animal


March 26, 2015 5:39 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I’ll be doing some checking around in Disciples of Christ circles to see how Sharon Watkins’s protest against Mike Pence’s “religious liberty” bill is playing among the faithful, and will report back when I know something.

Here are some remains of the day:

* House clears bipartisan bill fixing “Doc Fix” and extending (by 2 years) CHIP authorization.

* BUT Greg Sargent says there’s no reason to think this will lead to other bipartisan legislative acts.

* New report in Science suggests loss of Antarctic ice is accelerating.
* At Ten Miles Square, Michael O’Hare reports on the “Picketty of 2015,” a meaty book on the economics of digital products.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer wonders why educational technology keeps getting over-sold as solution to problems.

And in non-political news:

* Huge blaze in East Village of New York after possible explosion.

That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with one more birthday celebrant, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and I’ll go with an early, cheesy song that shows Tyler at, well, his earliest and cheesiest: “Lord of the Thighs.”


March 26, 2015 5:05 PM If You Are Going To Sabotage U.S. Diplomacy, Do It On Your Own Dime

Check out this pertinent amendment being offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in response to the Cotton Letter to Iran (per TPM’s Caitlin MacNeal):

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) would like to prevent Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) from sending any more letters to Iranian leaders about the nuclear deal, prompting her to file an amendment to block just that.
She introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would defund “the purchase of stationary or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States,” according to the Huffington Post.

This won’t stop gestures like Cotton’s, but will at least make it clear it’s an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

March 26, 2015 3:53 PM Rand Paul the Omni-Hawk

To the extent that the battle over the FY 2016 budget resolution among Republican Members of Congress is being billed as a fight between defense hawks and fiscal hawks, let it be recorded Sen. Rand Paul has decided to side with both (per a report from Bloomberg Politics’ Kathleen Miller):

Two senators who may vie for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are pushing their colleagues to boost defense spending more than their party’s budget seeks—even though one of them, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, has made a name for himself by pressuring leaders to accept spending cuts.
Paul’s proposed amendment to the budget would increase defense spending by almost $190 billion over the next two years. It does so through six pages of additions and subtractions to the figures included in the Senate Republican budget approved by committee, which is now being debated by lawmakers.
“This amendment is in response to others in both chambers who are attempting to add to defense spending—some way more than Senator Paul’s amendment—without paying for it,” Doug Stafford, senior advisor to Paul, said in a written statement. Paul “believes national defense should be our priority. He also believes our debt is out of control….”
The amendment would offset the proposed defense increases by cutting funding from foreign aid, the National Science Foundation and climate change research, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That’s in contrast to a proposal from Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who also may seek the Republican presidential nomination, who teamed up with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas on their own amendment to increase defense spending. That proposal doesn’t specify any reductions.

I hope those progressives who have flirted with supporting Paul against Hillary Clinton, and/or who simply consider him the best of a bad lot of Republicans, are paying attention to this. Rand Paul the brave heretic against Republican defense orthodoxy, the brave voice objecting to mindless defense spending increases, seems to have gone away, replaced by this dude whose main difference from other Republicans in this area is his enthusiasm for offsetting domestic spending cuts in order to pursue a limited-government path.

March 26, 2015 2:42 PM The Walker National Security Doctrine: If It Bleeds, It Leads

Believe it or not, there was something in that Hugh Hewitt interview with Scott Walker that’s more disturbing than his claim that service as a county executive is a better qualification for leadership on international affairs than knowledge of and experience in foreign policy or national security. Check out this answer to Hewitt’s question about why Walker prefers to call national security threats “safety issues.”

SW: I think it’s come to the forefront not so much because “national security,” that, to me, as I said [at lunch], is on page 6A of the newspaper where only a handful of us read into that. But when people see the videos, when they see the Jordanian burned alive in a cage, when they see the Egyptian Christians who were beheaded, when they see some of these other folks from around the world, including James Foley, who went to Marquette University where my son’s a junior, and suddenly, that becomes very real to everyday Americans.
HH: One of the beheaded Islamic State videos.
SW: Absolutely, whose parents are actually from New Hampshire, not far from where I was at a weekend ago, and you just realize, you can see it on your phone, you can see it on your iPad. You don’t need the filter of the network news or the daily newspaper to tell you how bad this is. It suddenly becomes an issue of safety, because that’s not something, national security, foreign policy is something over there. Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart. And I think increasingly, Americans feel a sense of concern that particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue.

Now unless this whole thing’s just a word salad, Walker seems to be saying that as president he would focus not on objective threats to our national security as he and his people discern them, but on fears subjectively identified by the American people. I’ve been saying for a while we should be concerned that the shock value of those IS beheading videos, and their massive dissemination, is making Americans overestimate the actual threat posed by IS, and is actually giving these terrorists leverage over us they do not deserve. Now you can legitimately disagree with me about the extent to which IS is an actual as opposed to a perceived threat, but Walker appears to be saying that perceptions of “safety” are all that really matters.

That actually scares me as much as IS beheadings. Shouldn’t our leaders be a bit calmer than we are, based on knowing more than we do, and having a better sense of the vast array of interests our powerful country must consider in any circumstance? I mean, we all are familiar with gutless politicians who all but come out and say: I’ll have the courage of your convictions. But Walker seems to be saying: I’ll launch missiles at your nightmares.

In any event, this man who wants to be president is openly telling us his national security—er, “safety”—priorities are going to be poll-tested and strictly subject to viral events on social media, the more shocking the better. So if there’s an emerging Walker National Security Doctrine, it might be the old motto of local news producers who are justifying a steady and distorted diet of violent crime and fatal traffic accident “stories:” If it bleeds, it leads. You think the deliberate fanning of fears for political purposes is bad? It is, but making Fear Itself your measurement of national security is worse.

We’ve been given fair warning.

March 26, 2015 1:56 PM Lunch Buffet

Sweet Sixteen starts up tonight. Trying to decide if I care. Probably will root for Wichita State over Notre Dame, and West Virginia over Kentucky. Man, will some couches burn if the ‘Neers somehow win that one!

Here are some less combustible midday news/views snacks:

* Israeli president asks Bibi to form government, but then tells him to clean up damage he’s done to relations with the U.S.

* “Intolerant Jackass Act” ballot initiative offered as counter to California “Shoot the Gays” initiative.

* Paul Waldman thinks conservatives are setting a trap for their own presidential candidates with over-broad “religious liberty” laws they are sure to endorse.

* WaPo’s Alexandra Petri publishes “Open Letter From Galileo to Ted Cruz.”

* Rahm Emanuel suggests renaming one of Chicago’s airports to commemorate Barack Obama. Could this have something to do with his efforts to hang onto black voters?

And in non-political news:

* Seems co-pilot of crashed Germanwings plane locked pilot out of cockpit and steered the plane right into a mountain. No motive discovered yet.

As we break for lunch, here’s another birthday celebrant, Diana Ross, with the Supremes covering the Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” on Hollywood Palace. (Just kidding! I know this was a Supremes song first!).

March 26, 2015 1:16 PM Walker’s “Think Locally, Act Globally” Standard of Foreign Policy Experience

Conservative gabber Hugh Hewitt interviewed Scott Walker on foreign policy issues yesterday, and the ensuing headlines involved Walker’s commitment to nullify any U.S.-Iran nuclear deal “on day one” if he is elected.

But a different item caught my attention: the Wisconsin governor seems to be side-swiping his Republican rivals in his rather unorthodox claim that only someone with executive experience can be trusted to know his ass from page eight on foreign policy and national security issues. Speaking of Obama, he said:

[T]he unfortunate reality is this is what happens when you put someone in office who’s never led before. He’s not listening. When you’re a governor, you’re a mayor, you’re a county executive wherever you’re at, and when you have a cabinet and you have to act on behalf of not just the people who elected you, but the whole group, the whole constituency as we talked about a little bit at lunch. You’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to listen to people who hopefully are smart or smarter than you are on any given topic. You ultimately have to make the decision. This president, unfortunately, having been a senator, a state senate, and community organizer, never led anything. And so he’s never been in a position to make those sorts of judgments.

So presumably his 2016 rivals Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and yes, foreign policy maven Lindsey Graham, are all to be disqualified on national security grounds. And by Walker’s standard, any random county executive or small-town mayor is likely to have better “judgment” on international issues than 2008 Republican presidential nominee and current Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain.

Fortunately for Senate Republicans, they can also rely on Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, who gained his critical experience as mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Walker needs to be mocked about this often. It’s fine if he wants to make the case that people like him with zippo foreign policy experience could still serve effectively as Commander-in-Chief. But trying to argue he is uniquely qualified is just stupid.

UPDATE: Here’s an even better point than the one I made about Walker’s weird standard for foreign policy and national security qualifications:

March 26, 2015 12:20 PM Pence Signs “Religious Liberty” Bill, Says Everybody’s Doing It

To no one’s surprise, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a “religious liberty” bill that has spurred threats of convention boycotts, including one from the sponsors of GenCon, the largest “gamer” convention in the country, and another from the Indiana-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination (which happens to be my own).

There were two things about Pence’s action that were interesting as opposed to just infuriating. Here’s one:

A large group attended the private signing ceremony just before 10 a.m. The ceremony was closed to the public and the press. Members of the media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

Yet Pence’s office released a photo with a rainbow coalition of clergy and religious, reinforcing his efforts to treat this as a “tribute” to people of faith rather than a declaration of independence from anti-discrimination laws.

The second was Pence’s implicit reaction to the boycott threats. In his post-signing press conference, he stressed the number of states who had also enacted “religious liberty” statutes (or had constitutional provisions being interpreted as protecting discrimination), and also ignored arguments Indiana’s bill was unusually broad, and basically said “everybody’s doing it.”

Developments in Indiana got some attention down in Georgia, where the legislature is considering similar legislation. But expressions of concern about the possible impact on convention-heavy Atlanta were brushed aside amidst Republican measures to reject amendments that would minimize conflict with existing anti-discrimination laws.

I’d say one important lesson for opponents of this retrograde effort is to be as clear as possible in separating the mildly offensive sheep from the really unacceptable goats among various “religious liberty” efforts, and target protests accordingly. But it does seem Indiana’s law is an appropriate target by any definition, and beyond that, locals everywhere cannot be expected to remain silent as even the least sweeping first steps towards a large, Jim Crow-like zone of sanctioned “private” discrimination are taken. This fight is going to go on for a long time.

March 26, 2015 11:12 AM What’s Next? “Death Tax” Repeal as Blow Against Inequality?

It’s obviously no surprise that proponents of the most egregiously inequality-producing measure the United States could take on any given day, a total repeal of inheritence taxes, want to hide the grossly regressive goals of their efforts by inventing some poster-children who seem more deserving than the one-tenth of one percent at the top of the income and wealth charts who are actually subject to federal estate taxes. Traditionally, that’s been “family farmers” or “small businesses.” But now and then these people try something a bit more imaginative: the claim that the “death tax” is harming African-Americans. Here’s the latest version of that howler, from Bernie Becker at The Hill:

Republicans seeking to repeal the estate tax have rolled out the endorsements of black business advocates who argue the levy is especially painful for minority entrepreneurs.
Harry Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), separately argued in recent days that the estate tax is an especially bitter pill for minority business owners, many of whom only started getting successful in the last half-century or so.
“Full repeal of the estate tax would allow African Americans to pass the full fruits of their business success to the next generation and thereby laying the foundation for a permanent minority ownership class that can contribute to the economic growth and development of the United States economy,” Johnson, whose worth has been estimated at more than half a billion dollars, wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee last week.

Actually, Johnson’s been offering his services to the GOP on this topic for a long time, dating back at least to the campaign for W.’s tax package in 2001.

But I’m not sure he’s always put it this way: that untaxed inheritances are essential for upward mobility among African-Americans.

Now if Johnson came right out and said that birth privilege rather than hard work, talent, or innovation, is all too often where economic success in this country comes from, then we’d have something to talk about. I’m sure that would horrify his Republican friends, though.

It would not surprise me next to hear GOPers claim repealing the “death tax” as part of an agenda for addressing economic inequality. It’s another example of how the same damn agenda winds up being the “answer” to diametrically opposed questions.

March 26, 2015 10:25 AM Flatter Than Thou

We’ll hear a lot of talk this year, most of it going nowhere, about “tax reform” in Congress, a term that usually connotes the kind of comprehensive pruning back of special-interest deductions and credits and exclusions that was last really undertaken in 1986, along with a general reduction in tax rates.

But out there on the campaign trail, where supply is meeting popular demand, particularly in the Republican presidential nominating process, it’s increasingly likely we’ll hear a return to the age-old cry for “flat” taxes.

Technically speaking, all a “flat” tax means is that whatever is being taxed will be taxed at uniform rates. So the very concept pretty much rules out progressive taxation. “Flat” tax advocates who also emphasize “simplicity”—you know, a tax form you could print out on a post card—are generally alluding to a wholesale elimination of exemptions, deductions and credits, which gets rid of a lot of special-interest provisions along with a host of provisions aimed at reducing or eliminating income taxation on the working poor. If rates are “flattened” too, the net effect would be huge tax breaks for upper- and upper-middle class folk and big tax increases for the poor. Some of these proposals, of course, also casually exempt corporate or investment income from taxation, so the regressive effect is even greater than first appears.

Then you’ve got “flat tax” advocates who simultaneously want to move from income to consumption taxes, which is generally the case with people who talk about “abolishing the IRS,” insofar as merchants would be collecting the taxes rather than a federal agency. This approach is even more regressive than a “flat” income tax, since everybody’s got to “consume,” but poorer people spend a higher percentage of their income covering essential living needs (yes, it’s true some progressive countries, mainly in Europe, depend heavily on consumption taxes, but they deliberately offset them with redistributive spending programs, which is not what our Republicans have in mind).

A lot of these ideas get jumbled together in politicians’ rhetoric, as Paul Waldman noted the other day at the Prospect

[A]lmost every potential GOP presidential contender has at the very least expressed support for tax flattening, and most of them have come out and endorsed a flat tax.

But the details are hazy and often contradictory. Ted Cruz, for example, has endorsed both a consumption tax and a “flat” income tax (Mike Huckabee is the one consistent consumption tax proponent). Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal have all indicated support for a flat income tax. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have spoken of a flat income tax as a “goal.”

The political motive for such talk, or at least so I think, is to do two things: first, it offers an alternative, less unseemly way of talking about upper-income tax rate reductions, and second, it sneakily scratches the itch of conservative “base” anger at the “lucky duckies” who are too poor to pay income taxes under the current system.

To see which way the wind would blow if Republicans win the trifecta in 2016, listen to what the candidates are saying about taxes more than to the wonky discussions on “tax reform” in Washington.

March 26, 2015 9:20 AM Bolton the Bomber

Well, somebody had to do it: even as other Republicans hint at it, and others promote policies that inevitably lead in that direction, former UN Ambassador John Bolton has come right out in a New York Times op-ed and proposed war with Iran. He claims, of course, to be motivated strictly by the desire to prevent an “arms race” in the Middle East, and at first makes it sound like he’s talking about a one-and-done “surgical strike” on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But then you have this:

Rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor would be priorities. So, too, would be the little-noticed but critical uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.

Gee, how you think that regime change is going to occur? Radio broadcasts? Will the Iranian people rise as once to toss off the yoke of the mullahs, instead of, as absolutely anyone with knowledge of the country tells you they will do, uniting against the countries bombing them?

Obviously Bolton’s influence is limited; I for one keep forgetting to include him in the list of possible 2016 presidential candidates. But particularly if he does run and makes it into the candidate debates, he’ll make it easier for others to talk irresponsibly about confronting Iran. The field is already pretty much committed (give or take Rand Paul, depending on which way the wind is blowing any particular day) to the re-invasion of Iraq. Why not “take out” Tehran while we are at it? What could possibly go wrong?

March 26, 2015 8:53 AM Cruz and Reagan

To those of us who don’t like to see relatively recent history abused, it’s a relief to see Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight slap down efforts to claim Ted Cruz is no more of a “long shot” for the Republican presidential nomination than was Ronald Reagan in 1980.

We’re hearing this chestnut again in the wake of Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement this week that he’s running for president. Kevin Williamson over at the National Review — while correctly pointing out that you should never say never in politics — argues that the people who say Cruz can’t win should look at the Reagan example before getting too confident in their predictions.
Well, I’m looking, and I’m just not seeing it. Reagan was the favorite heading into the 1980 Republican primary. And no, this isn’t only evident in hindsight, it’s a belief born out of the data that was available in the first half of 1979.
Reagan was cruising in the “endorsement primary.” Endorsements from party bigwigs, as I wrote about Monday, are key in presidential primaries. They act as a seal of approval for voters, and in some cases, endorsers provide the machinery needed to get out the vote. According to data from “The Party Decides,” Reagan had 51 endorsements from party actors through March 1979. This included five senators, 23 House members, two state party chairs and one governor. Weighting for the position of the endorser (i.e., senators count for more than representatives), Reagan had an astounding 90 percent of endorsements by party officials at that point.
Cruz has nowhere near that level of support. He couldn’t even earn the endorsement of his fellow Texas senator, John Cornyn, or fellow tea partyer Sen. Mike Lee. Reagan, who had honed his “common touch” as an actor and TV pitchman, was also a respected two-term governor of California, which at that time was a swing state. He gracefully bowed out of the 1976 Republican convention. In other words, Reagan gave Republican officials a number of reasons to like him. Cruz … hasn’t.

Harry is a young-un, so I’d supplement the data he cites with the personal observation that Reagan’s early stumbles in the 1980 contest—he lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush, the first candidate to deploy the strategy of basically moving to that state for a year or so before the Caucuses, which had also adopted a straightforward beauty-contest “straw poll” for the first time in 1980 that made it easy to deduce a winner—were at the time almost universally attributed to over-confidence. Reagan campaign manager John Sears had chosen to promote his candidate’s “inevitability” and “next in line” status (he had, after all, nearly defeated an incumbent president four years earlier). Most famously, “Hail to the Chief” was played as he appeared at campaign stops.

After Reagan lost Iowa, he did briefly behave like Ted Cruz, running a savage ideological campaign against Bush in New Hampshire in harness with the deranged editor of the Manchester Union-Leader, William Loeb. Among other things the Reagan camp emphasized Poppy’s membership in the Trilateral Commission, the symbol of the evil Elite Establishment in that day among the Tea Party’s ancestors. The day Reagan won New Hampshire, Sears was fired and replaced by William Casey.

After that, though, Reagan was back on the inevitability path, and once he dispatched John Connolly in South Carolina, there was no serious doubt about his nomination. Cruz is a long, long way from that enviable position. And Lord knows he’s not the only 2016 candidate who will try to put on a Reagan mask.

March 26, 2015 8:08 AM Daylight Video

Another day of multiple musical birthdays. Here’s Teddy Pendergrass, born on this day in 1950, performing “Wake Up Everybody” with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes on Soul Train.

March 25, 2015 5:26 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I’d like to write more about my denomination’s stand against Indiana’s “religious liberty” law, but my wife and I are on the hook to serve soup at my denomination’s local outlet in a few hours.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Wingnuts denouncing Obama interview with HuffPost, a “gay porn outlet.”

* Lindsey Graham adopting the Jon Huntsman strategy more explicitly, advertising himself as telling GOPers what they don’t want to hear. Yeah, until Benghazi! comes up.

* Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman confesses his brain was hurt by Ted Cruz’s self-comparison to Galileo.

* At College Guide, Stephen Burd discusses the potential of “advance commitment” pledges of Pell Grant assistance to low-income students.

And in non-political news:

* Fab listicle of ugliest jerseys in NBA history.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with Aretha performing “Rock Steady” on Soul Train in 1973.


March 25, 2015 5:08 PM A Religious Boycott To Protest “Religious Liberty” Legislation Protecting Discrimination

I don’t know if this would have quite caught my attention so much if it had not been my religious denomination involved. But I dunno: this may be the first major religion-based protest to “religious liberty” bills that’s large and well-timed enough to gain attention even for one of those much-dismissed Mainline Protestant groups. Here’s the report from Chris Sikich of the Indianapolis Star:

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has sent a letter to Gov. Mike Pence threatening to cancel its 2017 convention in Indianapolis if he signs controversial legislation that could allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples.
“Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry,” Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star.
Adams said the Disciples of Christ would instead seek a host city that is “hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees.”
The letter stated the church is inclusive of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations.
“As a Christian church,” it read, “we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow - one who sat at (the) table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table.”
The letter was signed by denomination’s General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins, Division of Overseas Ministries Julia Brown Karimu and Disciples Home Missions President Ronald J. Degges.
The Disciples of Christ has held its annual convention in Indianapolis three times since 1989. Adams expected up to 8,000 people to attend in 2017. The estimated economic impact would be about $5.9 million, according to VisitIndy.

Indianapolis is also the denomination’s headquarters. Disciples jokingly refer to it as “Vaticanapolis.”

I’m a bit surprised by this action because the Disciples are a famously decentralized denomination that rarely takes national positions on controversial issues. But as the letter from Disciples leaders to Pence indicates, they view this as directly analogous to the fight against racism, and feel compelled to take a stand.

I can’t imagine it will give much pause to Pence, even though the Disciples have a pretty rich tradition in Indiana, and for that matter, in the Republican Party (no less than Ronald Reagan—along with fellow-presidents James Garfield and Lyndon Johnson—was a Disciple). But at least it will make it a bit easier to dispute the idea this sort of legislation is supported by all people of faith.

March 25, 2015 4:36 PM Christian Right Not Fading, But It May Be Splintering

One emerging irony of the 2016 GOP presidential nominating cycle is that the Christian Right may have too many options for its own good.

There are no likely candidates who dissent—as did, say, Rudy Giuliani in 2008—from the Christian Right’s core positions. So far, there’s no one who will even criticize the Christian Right—as did John McCain back in 2000 when he gave a speech comparing Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Meanwhile, there are two probable candidates that did extremely well with this constituency in past presidential contests (Huckabee in 2008, Santorum in 2012), another who had sizable elite Christian Right support during the brief period he was viable (Rick Perry), two who are egregiously pandering and panting for such support right now (Cruz and Jindal), and one who for all his shortcomings in their eyes, is still closely associated with one of the emotional high points of recent Christian Right history, the Terri Schiavo affair. There’s not much Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have done to offend these people, though they may be disliked for other reasons.

But while nobody can ignore or diss Christian Right voters or their actual or self-designated leaders, their very prosperity within the GOP makes it less likely they can have the impact on the contest some want. Indeed, as Trip Gabriel shows at the New York Times today, Christian Right leaders are deeply divided over whether it makes sense to unite around a particular candidate, and almost certainly even more divided over the identity of their champion if they had one. War horses like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer and Richard Viguerie are scheming to force some sort of collective decision. But others aren’t buying it:

Some on the Christian right remain skeptical of the effort to settle on a single socially conservative candidate. Similar attempts in 2008 and 2012 collapsed because no consensus was reached, they say. And it is unclear what impact an endorsement by national social conservatives would have on a primary competition that will probably be driven by gobs of outside money, debate performances and long months of retail campaigning.
“I think it’s a useless process,” said David Lane, who arranges expenses-paid meetings of conservative pastors to hear from potential candidates, most recently at a gathering in Des Moines where Mr. Cruz and Mr. Jindal spoke. “My goal is to give the constituency access to candidates, then let them decide.”

You could call this a portfolio strategy, I suppose. But Lane is also at the center of another dispute among Christian Right folk, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, following Sarah Posner’s analysis: one between old-school culture warriors like Lane and a new breed of quieter leaders focused on less abrasive advocacy for the defensive-sounding “religious liberty” cause.

Add into that mix the usual centrifugal pressures of a large field of competing—and at least basically acceptable—candidates, and you have a recipe for big-time splintering. Thus by succeeding in pulling the entire GOP its way, the Christian Right could wind up reducing its influence on the choice of the Maximum Leader.

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