Over the weekend, John McCain hosted an event at his home, ostensibly as a social occasion, but what actually appeared to be something of an audition opportunity for three possible Republican running mates — Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. By some estimations, Crist was the most likely choice of the trio.
And why not? Crist is a very effective campaigner, and a popular governor of one of the nation’s most important electoral states. With Crist on the ticket, Dems probably wouldn’t even try as hard to win Florida. Crist is inexperienced — he was elected governor just 18 months ago — but that probably isn’t a deal-breaker.
The problem, though, is that Crist may not be perceived as rabidly conservative enough. Jonathan Martin noted that plenty in the GOP are “wary” of Crist: “Conservatives in Florida prefer his predecessor, Jeb Bush, and don’t view Crist as one of them. One problem is that Crist embraces what he calls a ‘live and let live’ approach to cultural matters. He was once pro-choice and is now pro-life, though he displays little enthusiasm for the issue. He’s also single, something that makes him unique among a crop of vice-presidential prospects who are all married with children.”
The disquiet is not limited to conservatives in Florida. TV preacher Pat Robertson’s network reported this week 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.”
Robertson’s national correspondent, David Brody, reported:
So why is Crist a problem for social conservatives? Well, first of all they don’t believe he’s pro-life. He says he’s pro-life but in the past he’s said he was pro-choice…. He has also supported civil unions. In addition, when the whole Terri Schiavo controversy exploded in Florida, Crist DID NOT side with pro-family groups who wanted him to take a more active role. He stayed on the sidelines.
Would McCain really pick Crist? It would be seen as a slap in the face to the Evangelical base yet McCain could look at it another way.
Just how seriously does the party’s base take this issue? Depending on who you talk to, pretty seriously.
Brody, for example, talked to the Family Research Council’s Connie Mackay, who said:
“We have concerns about Governor Crist. While he claims to be pro-life he has not been an advocate…We would not be supportive of his candidacy for Vice-President…I think it would not help him. McCain needs to continue to try and energize the base. I think that would certainly not energize the base and I think I could go one step further and say it would de-energize the base.”
Kelly Shackelford, a prominent religious-right activist, added:
“I don’t think there is any way that would happen. That would certainly put the last nail in the coffin for social and Christian conservatives, but it won’t happen. Sen. McCain has been fairly clear that he will pick a solid conservative.
Another leader from the religious-right movement who did not want to be named said there would be “an open revolt” against the McCain ticket, were he to pick Crist as his running mate.
It’s possible, if not likely, that the McCain campaign won’t care about these preemptive complaints. The religious right played a very minor, inconsequential role in the GOP primaries, and McCain may very well assume he can do just fine, whether the Dobson crowd likes his running mate or not.
One factor to keep in mind, however, is that the far right is probably responding negatively to Crist in part because he’s been less than enthusiastic about their culture-war issues, and in part because of rumors about his personal life.
The Huffington Post noted a report today that suggests the Republicans are already working to diffuse those rumors.