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January 15, 2012 11:20 AM The religious right movement finds its man

By Steve Benen

Prominent religious right groups and leaders have known all along they don’t want to see Mitt Romney get the Republican presidential nomination. They have not, however, coalesced around an alternative — in fact, they haven’t even tried.

An “emergency” meeting in Texas yesterday sought to change this dynamic.

Evangelical leaders pursued a last-ditch effort on Saturday to exert influence in the Republican presidential primary race, voting to support the candidacy of Rick Santorum in hopes of undercutting Mitt Romney’s march to the nomination.

A week before the South Carolina primary, a group of more than 100 influential Christian conservatives gathered at a ranch here and voted overwhelmingly to rally behind Mr. Santorum. An organizer described the vote as an “unexpected supermajority,” a decision that was intended to help winnow the Republican field and consolidate the opposition to Mr. Romney.

The theological circumstances are fascinating, in and of themselves: these evangelicals were choosing between two Roman Catholics. It wasn’t that long ago when this would have been considered impossible, if not ridiculous.

Nevertheless, Santorum clearly needed the boost — he’s struggled badly since his strong showing in Iowa two weeks ago — and there can be little doubt that the right-wing organizations represented at yesterday’s meeting represent a fairly significant number of social conservative Republican voters. This is especially true of South Carolina, where the religious right remains a potent GOP force.

What the theocratic wing of the party may not realize is how poor its timing is. The religious right has had this problem before — the movement strongly opposed John McCain in 2008, but waited until he’d won New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida to start pushing Mike Huckabee in a concerted, organized way.

Likewise, it’s a little late in the game to decide Santorum’s their man for 2012. For months, this contingent of Republican voters has been split largely three ways, backing Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. Michele Bachmann and even Ron Paul have generated some modest religious right support, too. The splintering, not surprisingly, has made it that much easier for Romney to take control of the race for the nomination.

These groups and leaders decided to wait until after Romney won Iowa and New Hampshire, and took the lead in South Carolina and Florida, to then said, “Hmm, maybe we should pick someone before it’s too late.”

Guess what, religious right? It’s already too late, and you should have done this in October.

For that matter, it’s not altogether clear how the endorsement will translate into votes. The groups didn’t encourage other candidates to get out of Santorum’s way, and none of the participants, at least publicly, committed any resources to Santorum’s effort. Indeed, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins told reporters yesterday he and his partners would not officially launch a new pro-Santorum initiative: “It will not be a coordinated effort.” These guys have the organizational strength to affect the race, but it’s not clear if they’re prepared to flex that muscle to the necessary extent.

In other words, the most likely scenario is that the far-right will continue to be split and Romney will continue to run the table. I can imagine Santorum getting some benefit from yesterday’s announced endorsement, but it’s still very hard to see the end game in which the former senator becomes the competitive anti-Mitt that can push this race into the early spring (unless Gingrich and Perry drop out fairly soon and throw their support to him).

By the way, while Gingrich was no doubt disappointed by the outcome of yesterday’s meeting, it’s Rick Perry who looks the worst. The Texas governor has long been a darling of the religious right, and the movement assumed last summer that he would be their standard bearer through the primaries. And yet, when the nation’s most powerful evangelical political leaders gathered — in Texas, no less — Perry was largely deemed an afterthought.

There are occasional whispers about a possible Perry comeback, but yesterday seems to mark another nail in the coffin for his national ambitions.

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.

Comments

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  • Rick B on January 15, 2012 11:28 AM:

    If this decision has any effect on Republican primary voters (not a given) then it simply demonstrates that as many of us have been saying all along the Republican Party is an authoritarian party driven and controlled from the top leaders.

  • Live Free or Die on January 15, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Its even worse than that. Not only did they wait too long to endorse. Newt is only 4 points away from Mitt in SC, which means that conservatives are moving towards him and starting to consolidate on their own. This endorsement will only stop that process and keep the right splintered. Its almost as if they decided to support Mitt without supporting him.

  • Danp on January 15, 2012 11:37 AM:

    An “emergency” meeting in Texas yesterday sought to change this dynamic.

    I'm guessing it was more of an auction.

  • c u n d gulag on January 15, 2012 11:39 AM:

    So, you Christian idiots, do you think your leaders went to Texas on THEIR own money, or with the money that you tithed or donated to your church, hmmmmm?

    And they picked a Catholic over the Mormon.

    I wonder if Lieberman had converted, if they'd have supported him?

    And by converting, I don't mean religion, I mean party.

    Because, it appears your leaders might even have supported a Jew over a Mormon.

    So, keep the cash and checks coming!
    That's the spirit!

  • Northzax on January 15, 2012 11:43 AM:

    They don't want to win. When will people, including their followers, realize this? They have more power, influence and fundraising prowess as the potential kingmakers of a party desperaty on the outside looking in. As l long as they never have to really put their money where their mouths are, never take a real chance, they maintain the illusion that they are more powerful than they are.

  • Bhaal on January 15, 2012 11:44 AM:

    >'Its almost as if they decided to support Mitt without supporting him.'

    And, perhaps, they realize how unelectable Santorum would be in the general. This is probably nothing more than CYA and self-preservation; if Romney gets the nod and loses, they look blameless.

  • Hedda Peraz on January 15, 2012 11:46 AM:

    Theocracy ain't had the same kinda power, ever since our Governor prayed for rain last year.

    The Truth South is holding it's fire until we see who gets the NASCAR endorsement!

  • PTate in MN on January 15, 2012 11:56 AM:

    I assume Tim Pawlenty wakes up every morning crying with regret for what could have been.

  • C Coleman on January 15, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Way to plan ahead.

  • navamske on January 15, 2012 12:22 PM:

    "What the theocratic wing of the party may not realize is how poor its timing is."

    I wondered which was the theocratic wing until I realized that was akin to asking people, "Did you see the episode in which the castaways almost got off the island but Gilligan screwed it up?"

  • AmusedOldVet on January 15, 2012 12:22 PM:

    It is never too late if you are a Christian and know that Jesus can provide miracles.

    With some extra strength prayer, maybe Newt will have a heart attack and Mittens will be discovered to be a polygamist with one of his sons as his second wife.

    It is never too late if you are a Christian and believe that Jesus will answer your prayers; unless you are Tim Tebow.

  • Ken on January 15, 2012 12:34 PM:

    Tony Perkins[...]: “It will not be a coordinated effort.”

    Is this perhaps a deliberate choice of words? From what I understand of SuperPACs - picked up entirely from last week's Colbert Report - they can do anything they want as long as they aren't "coordinating" with the candidate.

  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on January 15, 2012 12:34 PM:

    It is never too late if you are a Christian and believe that Jesus will answer your prayers; unless you are Tim Tebow.

    Rmoney = Belichick?

    http://www.comicsbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/belicheck_palpatine.jpg
    ~

  • DRF on January 15, 2012 1:03 PM:

    I think that the Christian right is tired of "mainstream" candidates who merely pay lip service to their issues but in practice compromise issues and don't prioritize their key social issues. Clearly, they see Romney as such a candidate.

    Frankly, from the perspective of the Christian right, they would be better off seeing Romney lose the general election. With Obama retiring in 2016, they would have a clear field to try to get one of their own nominated; the Democrats won't have an incumbent running and, therefore, a hard-core right Republican candidate would have a better chance of winning the general election. Of course, this would require the Christian right, in coordination with the rest of the Tea Party segment of the party, to find, groom and coalesce around a candidate for 2016.

    I think such an effort is doomed to failure. That portion of the Republican Party, while fiercely dedicated to its principles, represents an increasingly shrinking minority of the general population. Given this trend, their only hope of having their chosen candidate win a general election for President is to for a coalition with the moderate/big business wing of the GOP (which also means reaching out to so-called "independents"). However, thus far, the Christian right and Tea Party have chosen ideological fealty and personal identity over the more pragmatic coalition-building. The Christian right could, at this point, have accepted the inevitability of Romney and made the pitch that they have forced him to adopt rightwing positions consistent with their political views and taken credit for moving the party to the right. But obviously, Romney is sufficiently distasteful to them that they aren't prepared to accept him yet.

    You have to admire the principled opposition to someone as insincere and ideologically/intellectually dishonest as Romney. But it's definitely principle over pragmatism and will inevitably only accelerate the decline of the current Republican Party.

  • jjm on January 15, 2012 1:13 PM:

    I'm more curious about Maureen Dowd's mention today in the NYT of a 2006 meeting in which Romney and other Mormon leaders gathered to create a movement to make Mormonism more politically mainstream, largely by electing a Mormon president.

    Does anyone know more about this kind of 'quiet room' plotting?

  • chopin on January 15, 2012 1:21 PM:

    DRF - "...will inevitably only accelerate the decline of the current Republican Party".
    I keep thinking the GOP can't get any worse and have for a long time. But they get exponentially worse and their polling remains respectable. Mr. Benen feels obliged to offer them strategic advice on how to correct their stupidity over tactics. If the GOP adopts his suggestions and manage to elect one of the Cretans, than I will hold him personally responsible for the results. From my jail cell. Where I will be held indefinitely. Without charge or representation or trial.

  • JD on January 15, 2012 1:36 PM:

    Whispers about a Perry campaign? Evangelicals daydream about whispering about his campaign when they're drunk, which they're not supposed to be.

  • jonas on January 15, 2012 2:47 PM:

    This is so stupid, I don't know where to begin. They wait until *now* to get behind a candidate other than Romney? Romney has big-time organization, scads of his own money plus huge SuperPAC backing. I think they simply didn't realize what a juggernaut they were looking at until it was too late.

    I am surprised Sarah Palin has kept her powder dry this long, though. I expected her to come out for Gingrich or Santorum much earlier.

  • N.Wells on January 15, 2012 2:58 PM:

    So according to Our Nation's Religious Leaders Supposedly Annointed By God, voting for a catholic version of the Taliban is not as bad as voting for a serial adulterer, which is not as bad as voting for an idiot, which is less awful than voting for a mormon. Good to know.

    Any and all of that is of course not nearly as unthinkable for them as supporting a comparatively centrist, mainstream-christian guy with impeccable morals and deportment who has been willing to push for a mix of recent republican goals plus concern and assistance for those in need and equal opportunities for all, but who happens to be half-black.

  • schtick on January 15, 2012 3:10 PM:

    Nice to see the separation of church and state at work.

  • Matt on January 15, 2012 4:36 PM:

    Good catch about the two-Catholics aspect. Betcha Huckabee's kicking himself right now.

  • Michael W on January 15, 2012 4:49 PM:

    If you don't get Dan Savage's column in one of your local rags, you need to start checking him out online. His latest column is dedicated to Santorum (in both senses).

    Savage Love 1/11/12

  • Nanuq on January 15, 2012 4:51 PM:

    What appalls me is how much air time and weight this episode has given to Tony Perkins, head of the so-called "family research council." The organization's primary goal is the demonization of citizens based on their sexual orientation or practices, but suddenly now Perkins is on NPR as a respected spokesperson for the 100 religious leaders: fueueueueueuey~grrahgghhrahgghh. Sorry, lost my lunch.

  • A Female POV on January 15, 2012 4:58 PM:

    I would really like to have been privy to the conversations of the women who attended that meeting in Texas. Rescinding women's rights is a cornerstone of the conservative rhetoric and here are women who side with that rhetoric, selecting a candidate who is overly concerned with female contraception and abortion. That these women still defer to men on the icky business of female bodies is just mind-boggling. Just. Mind. Boggling. Thank you Phylis Schafly for helping select the candidate that would like to see women's place in society reduced. Why?

    How many women who have grown up in the 70's watched as their very own mothers danced alone and misunderstood on the line between conservatism and progressiveism. My own mother was a fiery flame, condemned to being a housewife...excuse me, stay-at-home mom with 4 kids until Dad left us all for a younger piece. She then went to work to support herself, us, and get through trade school. No one denies the right for Phylis Schafly or any other woman to love God, their man, or to choose to stay at home, though in this now two-income consumer society one's level of income takes a hit. But on the flip side, no one should be able to deny those of us who have lived in the underbelly of Ms. Schafly's idealistic world, where my mom made a lot less money than her counter-parts at her job, was a social outcast after the divorce, and in looking for that obligatory replacement husband dated more than one dangerous individual who, had she not caught on, would have made life hell for us all.

    Ms. Schafly, a lawyer working outside the home, appears to be on a personal campaign to demonize liberalism and feminism. I find that irony interesting and wonder if she or the other women attending that Texas meeting cared to consider, in their mad rush to defer to men, god, social image, and everything else but their own sense, what their personal loses or their daughters/granddaughters loses might be if such a candidate as Rick Santorum won the White House?

    Why can't conservative women admit that women can handle all the aspects of their own lives now, that partnering with a man can be a choice not a requirement, can handle the mysteries of their own bodies that most men (God love 'em) don't want even want to hear about, let alone deal with, unless they are doctors or in a clean office legislating. Women like Ms. Schafly aren't denying themselves what they hold dear (aka: her career), they are denying the rest of us what WE hold dear, our personal autonomy, and it is reprehensible the authority these women have both taken on and given away.

    Ms. Schafly sez feminism is making war on boys. Is it, is it really? Or is it the work-in-process of empowering girls to make the best of their lives as they see fit. We haven't even gained all that we could lose with the likes of Rick Santorum.

  • Neil B on January 15, 2012 6:02 PM:

    Santorum is a fake pious Catholic anyway: he predictably supports all the "mean" right-wing/religious ideals like suppressing reproductive freedom etc, but not the liberal-type Catholic positions against death penalty, torture, economic inequality, Israeli misconduct, etc.

  • Tanya on January 15, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Let get this straight,two faction of the republican party claim to have a problem with the mormon (Romney) so they waited till after 2 primaries have already taken place, also, he (Robney) gotten anointed of the republicans god-fathers, to complained...

    IMHO, they're all come together in the general election.. Because, they're main theme is to get PBO out of the WH period.... They don't care about they're principals, religion, ideology or anything else... This is all window dressings for the dumbing down media, who haven't ask none of these so-called candates any serious question or follow-up questions. They just wait for people on blogs to do their work for them.

  • Rich on January 15, 2012 6:57 PM:

    The rank & file theocons will still vote for Romney. These guys manage to get the agenda they want, just not the nominee they want.

  • jonthebru on January 15, 2012 7:13 PM:

    Any organization with a person speaking on their behalf should lose its tax exempt status.

  • David Carlton on January 15, 2012 7:15 PM:

    "there can be little doubt that the right-wing organizations represented at yesterday’s meeting represent a fairly significant number of social conservative Republican voters."

    Really? I'd doubt it. Richard Land was there, and I guess the Southern Baptist Convention "represents" a lot of white southerners, but anyone who knows anything about the SBC will tell you that what the guys at HQ do is pretty much irrelevant to the people in the pews. These guys don't have an army; they have a donor list.

  • Kathryn on January 15, 2012 7:16 PM:

    Good comment female POV, let's hope Mitt's forays into Planned Parenthood attacks, support for personhood amendments become well known to voting women. I'm sick to death of old white phony men thinking they know best about women and their bodies and their pregnancies.

  • MNRD on January 15, 2012 8:57 PM:

    Let's be honest here - none of the conservative Romney alternatives could cut it on a Presidential level. Those poor conservatives watched one pretender after another flame out before their eyes. How could they choose one Romney alternative out of the bunch when all of the Romney alternatives stumbled so badly one after another after another? Maybe the biggest miscue of all was the fact that all of the conservative alternatives deeply offended Ron Paul and his supporters. That destroyed any chance any of them might have had to make the "electability" case for themselves. At the end of the day, the electability case alone clinched it for Romney. And it doesn't even matter that Romney is highly vulnerable on the electability question. The Romney alternatives all made themselves so unelectable that Romney's electability vulnerability became a moot point.

    It might have been nice for this thing to go on and on and get bloodier and bloodier, but it looks like that simply wasn't in the cards. Romney will now get the nomination as an untested candidate. He thinks that what he's doing is more effective than it really is because he's winning the primary so easily. He's in for a rude awakening.

  • jcricket on January 15, 2012 9:52 PM:

    Once the religious right gets behind any one candidate who *will* flame out in the republican primaries, the case is made that they are largely irrelevant.

    By avoiding getting behind one candidate, they avoid making their irrelevance glaringly obvious to even their dumbest followers.

  • RalfW on January 15, 2012 10:05 PM:

    "There are occasional whispers about a possible Perry comeback, but yesterday seems to mark another nail in the coffin for his XnationalX continuing Gubernatorial ambitions."

    Fixt.

  • SKM on January 15, 2012 10:47 PM:

    All of the GOP candidates are theocrats, and has some problems with minorities. This is something that I found, "Immigrant Bashing 18th Century Style" 5-21-2011 at hurryupharry.org/2011/05/21/anti-immigrant-bias-18th-century-style/ this had quotes from Ben Franklin - that was taken from "The papers of Benjamin Franklin, ED, Leonard W. Larabee. New Haven:Yales Univ. Press, 1959. Vol 4:234 apparently at this time, they didn't like the Spaniards, French, Welsh, Swiss, Flemish, Russians, Irish...

    As far as racial relations with mormons, see the speech, Mark E. Peterson racist speech made at BYU. Then also look at the speech by Apostle Boyd K. Packer, "cleansing the inner temple," you can find this on youtube. And it should be noted, that most of these candidates are members of, wait for it, John Birch Society. This society is alive and well in Arizona, Utah...

    There is a case now, "Utah Judge considering trial for Mormon Bishop Gordon Lamont Moon, 43." This is for witness tampering and failure to report 16 year old girl complaint of sex abuse, and telling her not to contact authorities. And there's also a case in Arizona where a county supervisor's wife and daughter was accused and convicted for molesting the same teenage boy - they are mormons. The wife was sentenced to prison, the daughter (some thought because of money) was sentenced to probation. Oh, and there is a case of men now suing the Boy Scouts for molestation. So, all are bad choices.

    Birth Control and the feminist movement, well, mormons don't believe in that either, it is said that when Romney was leader of the ward (congregation of churches) in Michigan, he supposedly pressured a single woman to give her baby up for adoption. Remember the Duggard family, well, if I'm not mistaken, they are Mormons - and how many babies/kids - I think it is what 16, or 19? Romney did say on television that he believes in 'personhood.'

  • The Oracle on January 15, 2012 11:04 PM:

    Following on the heels of Colbert's "independent" super PAC attack ad in South Carolina against "Mitt the Ripper," I hope they go after Rick Santorum, maybe pointing out that Rick's relatives in his family's ancestral home town in Italy are all ultra-liberal anti-fascist members of Italy's Communist Party, maybe an attack ad this time with Godfather theme music playing in the background.

    We all know that Rick's not ultra-liberal and not anti-fascist, and definitely not a member of any Communist Party. He belongs to the ultra-conservative and pro-fascist Republican Party, making him somewhat of a Republican Papist, meaning he'll do whatever the Pope in Rome and Evangelical Protestants tell him to do, to hell with the U.S. Constitution and our liberal democracy.

    But I can imagine further attack ads in the seriously satirical "Mitt the Ripper" comedy vein. Maybe "Newt the Zipper" or "Rick the Flipper"? Of course, "Rick the Flipper" would just highlight the 180-degree ideological difference between Rick and his Italian relatives, sigh, another Roman Catholic rift, with Rick being the "Blah" Sheep of the extended Santorum family. I'm certain it'd be a hoot.

  • SKM on January 15, 2012 11:06 PM:

    The recent case in Arizona about the county supervisor is Fulton Brock. His wife, 49 year-old Susan Brock, and daughter accused of molestation. The wife was sentenced to prison, the daughter (I think it was a million dollars) was sentenced to probation.

  • SKM on January 16, 2012 1:21 AM:

    see what you can from this, "Romney brochure final.R1" marriottschool.byu.edu/mpa/pdf/publicservice.pdf and also marriottschool.byu.edu/mpa/newsletters/summer2007.pdf

    there's a lot of attention on Bain Capital LLC, but not much attention on Solamere Capital LLC. Also, the case of Daniel Tavares Jr, one of the 118 pardons by Romney's administration.

  • SKM on January 16, 2012 1:28 AM:

    Oh, and with the JBS, Romney gave a major speech at CPAC sponsored by John Birch Society and Oathkeepers. Romney's mentor was W. Cleon Skousen, author of Naked Capitalism, who himself was a member of Birch society and a Mormon. The W. in the name W. cleon Skousen is Willard.

  • SKM on January 16, 2012 4:23 AM:

    Jim @ 1:13,

    It is true. It is also hard to find everything. As some businesses is named under Pratt...Bush family is related to the Romney's.

    Romney Stadium in Logan Utah at USU, is named after Ernest Lowell (E. L. Romney) and G. Ott Romney, both are relatives.

    Milton Romney, former quarterback for Chicago Bears, is Mitt's cousin (which makes me think, that 'Mitt" is really Milton).

    L.C. Romney Baseball Park, was shown in the movie Sandlot. L.C. Romney was former Salt Lake City commissioner. Then you also have to city Romney in WV.

    "BYU renames building after $1 million gift from Romney Family" 2-12-1998 www.deseretnews.com
    Then the Romneys honored John W. Keys III posthumously at the Romney Institute of Public Mgmt in 2011 - this guy worked under Bush administration, taught at BYU...died after plane crash in Arizona 2008.

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