Political Animal


January 04, 2012 1:30 PM Conservatives to gather, look for ‘consensus’

By Steve Benen

For Republicans hoping to deny Mitt Romney the party’s presidential nomination, the problem has never been their numbers. The former governor has consistently run into a modest ceiling precisely because so many in the GOP neither like nor trust him.

The problem, rather, has been their splintering. It’s never been enough to simply oppose Romney; in a seven-candidate field, these opponents need to pick someone else.

Remember the “Not Mitt Romney” initiative launched two months ago by some fairly prominent right-wing voices? It wasn’t a bad idea, except for the fact that these folks never settled on an alternative. The task for Romney’s Republican detractors can’t be to simply highlight his flaws; it’s to elect someone else. “Not Mitt Romney” isn’t, and can’t be, the goal; nominating one of his rivals is.

Apparently, this realization is starting to sink in, at least among some.

A group of movement conservatives has called an emergency meeting in Texas next weekend to find a “consensus” Republican presidential hopeful, POLITICO has learned.

“You and your spouse are cordially invited to a private meeting with national conservative leaders of faith at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler near Brenham, Texas, with the purpose of attempting to unite and to come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate or candidates to support, or which not to support,” read an invitation that is making its way into in-boxes Wednesday morning.

The meeting is being hosted by such prominent conservative figures as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon, onetime chairman of the American Family Association; and Gary Bauer, himself a former presidential candidate.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the anti-Romney constituencies within the Republican Party are pretty varied. This meeting will feature heavyweights from the religious right movement, but there’s not a lot of overlap between these GOP players and, for example, the folks behind the “Not Mitt Romney” campaign.

I mention this because even if this emergency meeting helps identify a “consensus” candidate, it doesn’t necessarily mean their choice will be the choice for all the anti-Romney forces within the party.

But it will be a step that seems long overdue. Politico’s report added that the meetings participants will effectively choose between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, which from a theological perspective, creates a bizarre dynamic: evangelical Christian leaders will be selecting among two Roman Catholic candidates.

As for who has the edge, Gingrich has never gotten along with Dobson, so don’t be too surprised if by next week, the religious right starts coming out in force in support of Santorum.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • cmdicely on January 04, 2012 1:36 PM:

    "Not Mitt Romney" isn't, and can't be, the goal; nominating one of his rivals is.

    Apparently, this realization is starting to sink in, at least among some.

    Is it? That contention seems to be undermined by the "or not to support" language in the invitation, which seems to suggest that "not Mitt Romney" as the consensus is considered, in advance, to be an acceptable outcome of the meeting with no consensus on a candidate to support.

  • June on January 04, 2012 1:36 PM:

    This certainly sounds like it could be the pilot for a new reality show called "American Taliban."

  • martin on January 04, 2012 1:37 PM:

    evangelical Christian leaders will be selecting among two Roman Catholic candidates.

    Well, at least Santorum has never flip-flopped on his religion. Newt's had about as many religion as wives.

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2012 1:43 PM:

    Can the cries for "Sarah Dahlin'!" to join the fray be far behind?

    And Jeez, can you imagine a LESS FUN group of people to meet and "party" with?

    Ok, maybe the "National Death Penalty Executioner's Club's Annual Soiree," but not much else.

  • just bill on January 04, 2012 1:45 PM:

    santorum has the momentum, and if enough of these evangelicals swing into his corner, he'll have even more momentum. and he'd have no effin chance against obama. goldwater all over again?

    more popcorn please. i love this.

  • berttheclock on January 04, 2012 1:45 PM:

    It appears the Presslers are heavily involved with the Southern Baptists.

  • stormskies on January 04, 2012 1:51 PM:

    That group should also invite Jimmie Swaggert of 'I sinned my Lord" for getting caught fucking prostitutes using the money given to him by his constituents. That would add all the perspective necessary ........

  • Jake on January 04, 2012 1:52 PM:

    What better way for the religious right to demonstrate their irrelevance?

  • dbtexas on January 04, 2012 1:55 PM:

    Judge Pressler was a prime mover behind the dramatic change in the Southern Baptist Church during the eighties. He is one of the reasons I left the church. A truly evil, self centered man.

  • jonas on January 04, 2012 1:56 PM:

    That had to be a pretty stinging repudiation for the Paulites. I mean, he didn't suck quite as hard as Bachmann or Perry, but despite all the money and effort Paul mustered for Iowa, and the enthusiasm of his supporters, the caucus goers pretty clearly broke for Wall Street establishment stuffed suit and the neo-con evangelical who all but promises to do everything the opposite of Ron Paul. If I were Paul, I'd be looking at options for a third-party run. The modern GOP just really, really doesn't like him.

  • exlibra on January 04, 2012 1:58 PM:

    Gingrich has 3 wives (not to mention a full menu of a la carte religions -- see martin's post, @1:37PM) and a half-mil debt to Tiffany's. Santorum has 7 kids and wears home knit sweater vests. How can there be any doubt as to who the real conservative is?

    Whether or not they'll manage to coalesce around a single candidate is something else again. And that's before anyone starts wondering on how they plan to enforce any such agreement past the last bottle of champagne at the Presslers.

  • chi res on January 04, 2012 1:59 PM:


    Didn't God already tell them who to vote for?

    Do they think God changed her mind?

    Or maybe God was wrong and they know better.

  • Qalice on January 04, 2012 2:06 PM:

    It's been a while since Evangelicals selecting between Catholic candidates (or judges) has been a bizarre dynamic. Sadly, the Catholic church is closing the distance between itself and the Southern Baptists.

  • T2 on January 04, 2012 2:09 PM:

    yes chi res, I was of the opinion that God instructed Rick Perry to run for and become the nominee. At least, that's what Rick told us. The people at this private meeting event are all in bed with Perry and I'm sure expected, as did God, that he'd sweep the GOP off its feet. I wonder if this "private meeting" had anything to do with Perry's overnight change of heart - going from "reassess his chances" to full speed ahead tweet.
    It doesn't take a genius to find out more than one wants to know about Santorum....just Google him. The guy couldn't get re-elected in his OWN state.

  • jjm on January 04, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Any GOP candidate is up against a terrific campaigner in Obama. So their paucity of talent is due either to the fact that those GOPers who are of some intelligence are loath to try to best him--very hard to do --


    to the fact that the GOP, which is a minority party with a majority of big money, really has no talent. At all. They, like so many of their rich backers, have lived off what big money can buy them for so long they haven't felt the need to be creative and imaginative about trying to win elections.

    They are like rich trust fund babies who don't ever have to put themselves into positions of having to work for what they want. Or like the con men who prey on these trust fund babies, selling them snake oil 'consultants' and dreams of ego glory, a la Meg Whitman in California last year.

    Look: Mitt Romney spent 4 million dollars to buy 30,015 votes. And it netted him an 8 vote win. AND fewer actual votes than he received in 2008 in the caucuses. The Kochs and their friends spent millions to get the House and what do they really have to show for their money.

    Who would want fools like these in charge of the federal budget?

  • zeitgeist on January 04, 2012 2:12 PM:

    when i first quickly read the title of the new post, I mistaken thought it said

    "Conservatives to gather, look for 'conscience'"

    And I thought that might take them a long, long while.

  • H-Bob on January 04, 2012 2:13 PM:

    This is progress ! Usually a bunch of self-proclaimed "moderates" are calling for a third-party candidate for the "centrists" ! The Democrats won't be buying that crap this time.

  • exlibra on January 04, 2012 2:14 PM:

    chi res, @1:59PM

    Another possibility: God whispered softly, and none of them heard correctly. Or God used three syllable words (beyond their "pay grade").

    Of course, atheists like myself tend to take a couple aspirin and a self-prescribed bed-rest whenever we hear such voices...

    Oh, and Craptcha has yet another suggestion: it wasn't God at all; it was "helownd Stations"

  • majun on January 04, 2012 2:37 PM:

    If Santorum becomes the GOP nominee, I don't think that Obama could wish for a better present. The economy would have to be tanking pretty bad for him to have trouble defeating an opponent who lost his last statewide election by a landslide and is best known for being the punchline to a Google joke.

    And he has the added advantage of being the only candidate left, now that Bachmann is out, who is more or less impervious to any accusation of being a RINO. If the GOP goes down to ignominious defeat (McGovern style) under the Santorum banner, even the wackadoodle wingnut brigade would have to accept the reality that their electoral losses have not been predicated on being insufficiently conservative.

  • Joe Friday on January 04, 2012 2:38 PM:

    "don't be too surprised if by next week, the religious right starts coming out in force in support of Santorum"

    Oh thank ya Sweet Jeh-zus !

  • Diane Rodriguez on January 04, 2012 2:38 PM:

    There should be joy in the White House over the continuing rift among Republicans. The chasm in the Republican Party between those who vote for socially regressive candidates and those who vote for candidates who safeguard their wealth continues to widen. This is a good thing for not only Obama but the country. Clarity is a good thing. I believe Romney will emerge as the candidate, albeit a weak one because money will eventually trump the social issues.

  • chi res on January 04, 2012 2:39 PM:

    Um, yeah. Think I'll go with that "hell-owned stations" option. That explains a lot.

  • Daniel Buck on January 04, 2012 3:05 PM:

    They used to do that sort of thing in a smoke-filled room.

    Now it's a bible-filled room.


  • gbear on January 04, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Can I root for an asteroid?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 04, 2012 4:16 PM:

    Politico's report added that the meetings participants will effectively choose between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, which from a theological perspective, creates a bizarre dynamic: evangelical Christian leaders will be selecting among two Roman Catholic candidates.

    So help them, Lord. Must be real slim pickings for the religious right of the GOP if it's between Scat Man Santorum and Gingrinch. I hope they have something really strong to chase down the sour taste in their mouths after they swallow this... (sorry, disqusting metaphor)

    One candidate is thoroughly unqualified to represent the right, no matter what kind of transformation he claims to have experienced. The other represents a wing of Catholicism that the average (see Callista,) can't even get down with. (Dan Savage has a wonderfully crude and potty-mouthed analysis of the Newt-vs.-Scat Man religious nuttery.)

    If the GOP is going to go all scat happy, they do so at their own peril: if they choose Santorum they better excise the sex-obsessed part of his brain (appx. 3/4) so he doesn't talk about his medievel view of sex and contraception in public. His politics are offensive not just to LGBT but to straight people as well.

  • appletree on January 04, 2012 4:46 PM:

    This is a really compromising position for sothern baptists, who have no love for Catholics. However, Santorum (a VERY conservative Catholic) and Gingrich (a convenient Catholic) aren't representative of the average American Catholic.

  • mfw13 on January 04, 2012 6:26 PM:

    I'm amazed by how many members of the MSM are saying that Romney is now almost certain to win the nomination.
    In case they haven't noticed, more than 3/4 of the Iowa caucus participants preferred somebody other than Romney.

    Yes, Romney will continue to be a front-runner until the religious right coalesces around a single candidate (now looking like either Gingrich or Santorum), but keep in mind that Super Tuesday isn't until early March, and that less than 10% of GOP delegates will be chosen before then. So even if he wins every primary/caucus between now and Super Tuesday (which he won't), he won't be able to amass a huge lead in delegates, which is what truly matters.

  • craigie on January 04, 2012 11:40 PM:

    You know who else is not Mitt Romney? Barack Obama. They should nominate him!

  • Anyone but Perry on January 05, 2012 12:41 AM:

    Dobson, spearhead of Christian Hate Radio. He must think his dear and fluffy lord has abandoned him. Either a BLACK Christian man stays in the WH or a MORMON white guy looks to get in there and EVERYBODY KNOWS that if the black guy doesn't turn this nation communist before he's done, that dang Mormon will load the supreme court and agency leadership with his church buddies and turn us all into Latter Day Saints and give us all our own planets. Poor Dobson..this year is turning out better already.

  • mark on January 05, 2012 10:42 AM:

    This GOP circus reminds me of the 1969 film "Putney Swope"--Republicans had better be careful about choosing a replacement.