alien & sedition.
Monday, October 01, 2007
  Dobson's Choice

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

First things first: can we please stop referring to the Council for National Policy as "secretive"? The CNP is the most publicity-seeking "secret" organization on the planet. It's made up of prima-donna religious right leaders who enjoy their public positions of political influence; if it were truly clandestine it wouldn't be alerting the national media every time it has a significant meeting.

So the CNP is considering backing a third party candidate if Rudy Giuliani wins the nomination. Again, it's no secret that the group has been casting around for candidates for some time now: back in February, for instance, it was deliberating over whether to throw its support behind a Christian conservative in the GOP primary -- Huckabee, or Brownback, or South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Christian Right heavyweight Paul Weyrich described the Council as "split 50-50" over whether to unite behind a second-tier candidate, or to just split up according to individual dictates of conscience and calculation. The discussions ended without consensus, and the CNP's main movers have mostly sat out the primary race since then, which should tell us something about how much all this talk really means.

The problem was with the notion of backing a horse that couldn't win. And if the Council wasn't willing to support a second tier candidate in the primary, why would it be willing to take the much longer odds of organizing behind a third party candidate in the general?

There's no denying the seriousness of the dilemma facing Christian conservatives. Their influence within the GOP is fading fast; they've never been much more than cheap foot soldiers to a party run by a business lobby with little interest in social issues either way. If they allow the Republicans to nominate a pro-choice candidate, and fail to challenge the decision, they stand to lose much of what remains of their political credibility. But at the same time, they hardly seem to be spoiling for a fight. It's true that they could throw the election to the Democrats by winning only a couple of percentage points next November. But what will that win them? Do they really want proof that all they can draw is a couple points? It could make them look every bit as marginal as Ralph Nader.

This is indeed a dangerous moment for the Republican party. It seems that the party is calculating that its mass support, once built on the backs of the anti-abortion movement, can now be drawn from the legend of perpetual war. Over the long run, I suspect that's not likely to be a winning strategy. But in the very short term, understand that, for the "secretive" CNP, the decision to support a third-party candidacy will not come easily, and it very well might not come at all.

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What's interesting to me about this is that the religious right is always the example I use when explaining to Naderites why 2000 was a strategic mistake. Social movements have much more influence when they influence major parties from within than when they create their own political organization. If the religious right had started a "Christian Democratic" party in the 1980's, we'd have had a string of liberal Democratic Presidents. It looks like the social conservatives may be forgetting that lesson.

If the Dobsonites are really so terrified of a Giuliani nomination - if he really is so unacceptable - a smarter (if more cynical) strategy would be to deliberately depress the conservative christian vote on election day. That way they'd be able to claim that no pro-choice Republican can win. They'd preserve their hold on the party - if at the price of four years of a Democratic President (which I'm not so sure they're not going to get anyway).
arbitrista -- I agree with you entirely, and I suspect that that may be a more likely outcome than a 3rd party candidacy.

Frankly I'm not sure the Fundie leaders have the stones to try a real rebellion. I think they'll just sit on their hands.
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