Political Animal


January 16, 2012 1:30 PM Religious right splintering points to larger problem

By Steve Benen

It seemed like a fairly significant deal over the weekend when over 100 prominent and influential evangelical leaders — all significant players in the religious right movement — held an “emergency” meeting in Texas to discuss what to do about the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Soon after, the pastors and activists voted to support Rick Santorum.

It didn’t take long, though, for the new push to start to unravel. (via Laura Clawson)

A civil war is breaking out among evangelical leaders over allegations of a rigged election and ballot stuffing at a Saturday gathering of religious and social conservatives.

At the meeting about 150 religious conservative activists at the Benham, Texas, ranch of Nancy and Paul Pressler, Rick Santorum supporters claimed the former Pennsylvania senator was chosen on the third ballot as the consensus candidate to try to stop Mitt Romney’s march to the Republican presidential nomination.

The meeting was called to avoid a continued division within social conservatives’ ranks.

But in back-and-forth emails, Protestant fundamentalist leaders who attended — most of them backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to be the anti-Romney candidate — are accusing Catholic participants of conniving to rig the vote.

I can’t speak to the merit of the accusations, though I find the underlying charge rather odd — participants at the meeting were effectively choosing between Santorum and Newt Gingrich. They’re both Roman Catholic, which made the need for pro-Catholic manipulation unnecessary.

Nevertheless, after the assembled evangelicals spoke largely with one voice immediately after the confab, several prominent evangelical leaders reiterated their support for Gingrich, rejecting the idea that the Saturday meeting led to a “consensus.”

I don’t much care who the religious right movement rallies behind, and I think it’s almost certainly too late to make a difference anyway. These guys should have been crafting a 2012 strategy months ago.

Regardless, the only person enjoying this in-fighting among evangelical leaders is the one candidate they all hope to defeat: Mitt Romney. It was the purpose for the meeting in the first place, and now the effort appears to be falling apart.

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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  • Danp on January 16, 2012 1:34 PM:

    Maybe God loves a spirited debate. Religious leaders? Not so much.

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 1:38 PM:

    "A civil war is breaking out among evangelical leaders over allegations of a rigged election and ballot stuffing at a Saturday gathering of religious and social conservatives."

    I will take them at their word.

    After all, who knows better than Conservatives about how to rig an election or stuff a ballot box?


  • Michael W on January 16, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Couldn't happen to a more deserving group of despicable, hateful bigots. I don't believe in a hell, but if I'm wrong, I hope they all rot in it.

  • MattF on January 16, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Not to get all analytical or anything, but why on earth (or in heaven, for that matter) are any of them supporting Noot? Don't they notice that he's really not their type of guy?

  • Ron Byers on January 16, 2012 1:48 PM:

    What this really points out is how the Republican party is falling apart. There are camps of big government conservatives (like our evangelical leaders), small government conservatives and the money elites (like Mitt Romney.) Except for ODS they have very little in common. If the President were white I am sure this would be the year the Republican party went the way of the Whigs. In fact, if the economy continues to improve, even a little, it might be yet.

  • stormskies on January 16, 2012 1:50 PM:

    How perfect for 'religious' leaders from the conservative right. Given who they actually are they should have voted for Jimmy Swaggert.

  • Peter C on January 16, 2012 1:51 PM:

    Who'd have ever imagined that religious zealots who vehemently reject 'evidence' and all claim to speak for God would fight amongst themselves?

    I wonder if they'll experience an 'enthusiasm gap' when asked by their corporate paymasters to support a plastic Mormon who obviously wants most to help only the 1% and espoused (in the past) hated liberal causes?

    Sadly, as soon as Mittens is attacked by both the left and the right, the corporate media will proclaim him the obvious 'Centrist'. *sigh*

  • Michael on January 16, 2012 1:51 PM:

    because many are under the mistaken assumption that a newtie would wipe Obama out in debates...anything but Obama...

  • Marko on January 16, 2012 1:54 PM:

    So what would be worse? The fact that there actually was ballot stuffing amongst evangelical leaders? Or just that some would suspect that the outcome was rigged? Where's the LOVE? What would Jesus do? (vote for Obama I suspect)

  • zeitgeist on January 16, 2012 1:56 PM:

    Ron -- and your list of incompatible Republican subgroups didn't even include right-leaning libertarians, who may never have the clout to control the party but who still show a steady, sizable 20% support for Ron Paul.

    and as Steve said a day or so ago, what a huge slam on Perry that even when the consensus breaks down he still isn't in the mix. ouch.

  • jrosen on January 16, 2012 2:09 PM:

    Steve, Mitt is not the only one enjoying this right-wing uncivil war. I am too. It would be hard to imagine that the spiritual heirs of the KKK would "rally" around a Catholic, however cynical that supposed convert might be. After all, didn't another power-broker once say that empire was worth a Mass (or something like that)?

    Of course it has never been about "values". It is about the usual things: power, money, and prestige.

    Until last Saturday night, it would have made more sense to push for Tim Tebow.

  • Chris on January 16, 2012 2:09 PM:

    One of two scenarios has taken place among these so-called Christians. Either a significant number of them cheated or others, without evidence, falsely accused a significant number of them of cheating. Either way, the irony is hard to miss.

  • MBunge on January 16, 2012 2:13 PM:

    I doubt Romney is enjoying yet another affirmation that evangelicals will not vote to put his Mormon behind in the White House.


  • GSmith on January 16, 2012 2:17 PM:

    Rig election and ballot-stuffing? I don't know why anyone is surprised...that's what these people DO!

  • RT on January 16, 2012 2:18 PM:

    "...accusing Catholic participants of conniving to rig the vote."

    No honor among ratfkers, eh?

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 2:20 PM:

    The evangelicals always threaten to break away before reliably coming back to the fold.

    This story is more dog-on-man than man-on-dog.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on January 16, 2012 2:24 PM:

    Based on the allegations here, maybe the right wing obsession with potential voter fraud is really projection?

  • kevo on January 16, 2012 2:40 PM:

    Recrimination can be a bitch! -Kevo

  • Ken on January 16, 2012 2:51 PM:

    @Roger the Cabin Boy: I see it more as the consequence of telling people that if they don't like the outcome of an election, they don't have to accept its results as legitimate.

  • burro on January 16, 2012 3:58 PM:

    square1 on January 16, 2012 2:20 PM:

    "The evangelicals always threaten to break away before reliably coming back to the fold."

    But in this case, that means eventually, actually, pulling the lever for a mormon. This is some profoundly disturbing stuff to these theofascists.

    mitt doesn't have their agenda front and center. This weekend's christ klatch showed, once again and very clearly, he's not one of them, and it ain't his politics that has them hyperventilating. He's the competition. He represents a whole different set of bullshit, and mormon bullshit is on the move. And as weird and screwed up as Newt is, he's not a mormon, and for this election, that's enough for some, but it won't win him the nomination.

    Some very pious people are going to be very freaked out when they realize that their only choice in November is going to be to vote for a mormon, or Obama.

  • burro on January 16, 2012 4:06 PM:

    In addition to the legitimately pious, I should have included the group of hypocritical and power hungry a-holes who attended the weekend gathering as a subset of those who will be choking on this looming reality.

  • FranktheMc on January 16, 2012 4:07 PM:

    I'm really shocked to hear that Evangelicals and Catholics, with their centuries of mutual support, Christian fellowship, and original methods of torture and execution, would have points of conflict.

  • Mitch on January 16, 2012 5:53 PM:


    "Some very pious people are going to be very freaked out when they realize that their only choice in November is going to be to vote for a mormon, or Obama."

    Indeed. My family back in Kentucky are currently very freaked out by this. An uncle was even complaining about the only "real Christians" in the race being Catholics.

    My father, meanwhile, surprised me by complaining not only about Mitt's "heathen" beliefs, but also griping about Mitt's role at Bain. The fact that my family (stereotypical Bible Belt Fundies) is so distressed by both aspects of Mitt Romney make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

  • Rich on January 16, 2012 11:40 PM:

    And yet virtually every candidate endorses their positions. That's probably the real news here.