For the first open cycle in a long while, the religious right has had no discernable impact on the presidential race. And yet, the movement continues to believe that it’s powerful enough to start calling the shots when it comes to the Republican ticket, or at a minimum, that the religious right can veto those who fall short of its standards.
In May, the movement let it be known that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) was unacceptable as McCain’s running mate. TV preacher Pat Robertson’s network reported that many “pro-family leaders and activists ... all agree that if John McCain picks Florida Governor Charlie Crist as his running mate, there will be MAJOR dissatisfaction among social conservatives.”
Earlier this month, the religious right said Joe Lieberman was out of the question. “Lieberman’s a great pick for McCain if he doesn’t want to be president,” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land called a possible Lieberman VP pick “a catastrophe.”
And this week, the movement said Mitt Romney won’t do, either.
Prominent evangelical leaders are warning Sen. John McCain against picking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his running mate, saying their troops will abandon the Republican ticket on Election Day if that happens.
They say Mr. Romney lacks trust on issues such as outlawing abortion and opposing same-sex marriage and because he is a Mormon. Opposition is particularly powerful among those who supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican presidential primaries earlier this year.
“McCain and Romney would be like oil and water,” said evangelical novelist Tim LaHaye, who supported Mr. Huckabee. “We aren’t against Mormonism, but Romney is not a thoroughgoing evangelical and his flip-flopping on issues is understandable in a liberal state like Massachusetts, but our people won’t understand that.”
The Rev. Rob McCoy, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, Calif., who speaks at evangelical events across the country, told The Washington Times, “I will vote for McCain unless he does one thing. You know what that is? If he puts Romney on the ticket as veep.”
This is all terribly foolish.
First, when a guy like Tim LaHaye says, “We aren’t against Mormonism,” it’s not exactly a stretch to think they’re against Mormonism. For many evangelicals, this was a problem during the Republican primaries, and religious right activists haven’t exactly grown more tolerant over the last few months.
Second, this is a largely hollow threat. McCain and his campaign are well aware of the fact that plenty of religious right leaders swore up and down that they’d never support McCain — James Dobson, LaHaye, Phyllis Schlafly, Mat Staver, David Barton, Rick Scarborough, etc. — but they’ve since come around. If McCain picks Romney, he’ll do so assuming that the religious right will remain loyal to the GOP, and he’ll probably be right.
And third, the religious right seems to hold no sway over McCain whatsoever. That these leaders think they have some kind of veto power is absurd. Religious right opposition to McCain was barely a speed bump in January — what makes “prominent evangelical leaders” think they’re in position to call the shots now? What is it, exactly, that these groups have done to gain credibility with the McCain campaign?
McCain & Co. know that these religious right leaders ultimately got behind the Republican campaign in exchange for nothing. McCain largely ignored them, they huffed and puffed, but once the general election campaign began in earnest, the religious right fell in line. If they seriously believe they can block Romney now, by making half-hearted threats, they’re fooling themselves.