It's hard to overstate the extent to which the religious-right movement and its leaders have not gotten along with John McCain. It's not just that they preferred other candidates during the Republican primaries; it's that they actively and publicly hated the guy.
Consider an example. In October, the Family Research Council hosted a "Values Voter Summit," and nearly all Republican candidates showed up to kiss the movement's ring, touting their faith and their commitment to religious-right issues. At the end of the conference, organizers held a straw poll -- and McCain came in dead last with just 1.4 percent support. McCain did even worse than Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights and gay rights.
The whole "agents of intolerance" thing was apparently tough to get over. It's hard for a candidate to "Sister Souljah" conservative evangelical activists, and then seek their support two cycles later. The religious right may be crazy, but it's a movement with a long memory.
That, however, was before Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, and started earning enough support to possibly split the evangelical vote. All of a sudden, McCain doesn't look so bad anymore.
Conservative evangelical leaders met privately this week to discuss putting aside their misgivings about John McCain and coalescing around the Republican's presidential bid while urging him to consider social conservative favorite Mike Huckabee as a running mate.
About 90 of the movement's leading activists gathered Tuesday night in Denver for a meeting convened by Mathew Staver, who heads the Florida-based legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel.
Many evangelical leaders backed other GOP candidates early on and remain wary of McCain's commitment to their causes and his previous criticisms of movement leaders. But with the presidential field now set, many evangelical leaders are taking a more pragmatic view, realizing also that the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, is making a strong play for evangelical voters and talking freely about his faith.
Christian conservative leaders? Choosing pragmatism over principles? You don't say.