Chris­tian right scat­ters sup­port in Repub­li­can pri­mary

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow

Chris­tian con­ser­va­tive lead­ers, un­able to co­a­lesce around a sin­gle can­di­date, in­stead are spread­ing their bless­ings among sev­eral Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls — and dry­ing up talk of a third-party “Chris­tian val­ues” ticket.

The Rev. Don­ald Wild­mon, who founded the Amer­i­can Fam­ily As­so­ci­a­tion in Tu­pelo, Miss., and whose evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian mes­sage reaches sev­eral mil­lion ra­dio lis­ten­ers and In­ter­net sub­scribers, threw his sup­port to Mike Huck­abee on Nov. 8.

That sup­port comes a day af­ter the Rev. Pat Robert­son shocked fel­low evan­gel­i­cals by en­dors­ing Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, the only prochoice Repub­li­can run­ning.

Mer­rill Matthews, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian and health care pol­icy an­a­lyst at the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion in Dal­las, said Mr. Robert­son’s en­dorse­ment can mean one of two things: “Ei­ther abor­tion is no longer the defin­ing is­sue for evan­gel­i­cals that it used to be or the fear of a Hil­lary Clin­ton pres­i­dency is so great that at least some evan­gel­i­cals will com­pro­mise on a three­decades-old non-com­pro­mis­able prin­ci­ple to beat her.”

The dol­ing out of en­dorse­ments be­gan Nov. 5 when Paul M. Weyrich, who holds a reg­u­lar Wed­nes­day meet­ing of con­ser­va­tive lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton, gave the nod to for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney. Sen. Sam Brown­back of Kansas, who ended his run for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion last month, on Nov. 7 em­braced Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona. James Dob­son, whose Fo­cus on the Fam­ily reaches mil­lions of fol­low­ers through ra­dio and news­let­ter subscriptions, was ex­pected to re­veal his choice soon.

The Robert­son en­dorse­ment is con­sid­ered a clear sig­nal that the evan­gel­i­cal broad­caster thinks that the for­mer New York mayor will emerge as the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee next year and is the can­di­date most ca­pa­ble of de­feat­ing Mrs. Clin- ton in the fall.

“The theme of the en­dorse­ments of both Gi­u­liani and McCain seem to be less about con­ser­va­tive be­liefs and more about who can beat Hil­lary,” said Jes­sica Echard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Phyl­lis Sch­lafly’s Ea­gle Fo­rum. “For Repub­li­cans to use that cri­te­rion is to hand over the pri­mary process to the Demo­cratic Party, rather than to the grass roots.”

“Ea­gle Fo­rum is in no hurry to en­dorse a can­di­date,” Miss Echard said. “We are still one year from the gen­eral elec­tion.”

But some Repub­li­cans pro­fessed to see value in Chris­tian right lead­ers end­ing up all over the map.

“This re­ally in­di­cates a ma­tur­ing of the so­cial con­ser­va­tive lead­ers in one sense: that they don’t all fit into a phone booth and that they don’t all fit into a mold,” Repub­li­can elec­tions lawyer Cleta Mitchell said. “The ab­sence of a lock-step de­vo­tion to the same can­di­date makes so­cial con­ser­va­tive lead­ers im­por­tant to which­ever can­di­date is en­dorsed. That is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Mr. Matthews said the en­dorse­ments show that the Chris­tian right has a prag­matic side and is not as rigid an ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment as it is por­trayed.

Mr. Robert­son has a his­tory of en­dors­ing the ul­ti­mate win­ner of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion fight, in­clud­ing Bob Dole in 1996 and Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000.

Mr. Robert­son’s in­flu­ence is not wide­spread as it once was. His “700 Club” reaches mil­lions of view­ers five days a week, but he is no longer as­so­ci­ated with the Chris­tian Coali­tion, which he founded af­ter his failed Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion run in 1988.

Many evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers across the coun­try e-mailed each other ex­press­ing their shock over the sur­prise move by Mr. Robert­son, who has built a rep­u­ta­tion as a pro­tec­tor of the un­born.

The prac­ti­cal ef­fect of Mr. Robert­son, still a ma­jor fig­ure on the evan­gel­i­cal right, has less to do with how many fol­low­ers he can turn out next Novem­ber and more to do with the stamp of ap­proval he puts on pro-life vot­ers tap­ping the screen for a pro-choice can­di­date.

“Many evan­gel­i­cals have been say­ing qui­etly that given the choice be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Rudy Gi­u­liani, they would vote for Rudy,” Mr. Matthews said. “Pat Robert­son’s en­dorse­ment frees them up to say so pub­licly.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Best bet: The Rev. Pat Robert­son sur­prised many evan­gel­i­cals when he en­dorsed abor­tion rights sup­porter Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

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