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Jewish World Review
Nov. 13, 2007
/ 3 Kislev 5768
Pat, Rudy and other surprises on the Right
Like war, presidential campaigns can surprise you. Keep that in mind as you try to figure out Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid.
Robertson is a Virginia-based televangelist tycoon, icon of the religious right and a 1988 presidential candidate. He rails against abortion and gay marriage. Yet, he's endorsing a former New York mayor who favors a woman's right to choose, defends gun-control laws and, when marital difficulties forced him out of the mayoral mansion, shared a Manhattan apartment for a time with two gay friends.
So why is Robertson compromising his usual tut-tut moral absolutism to endorse Giuliani for the White House? The fight against Islamic fascism is of greater importance, says the founder of Christian Broadcasting Network. That's also the thinking of many social conservatives who have given Giuliani more support than a moderate Republican from New York might expect to get.
Whatever his agenda may be, Robertson's endorsement and Giuliani's eagerness to accept it says a lot about the nature of Campaign 2008: With the unifying force of President Bush in eclipse, the religious right is up for grabs, and all of the Republican candidates, except perhaps the libertarian maverick U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, appear eager to grab it.
The first rule of politics is: Thou shalt not divide thy base.
Of the front-runners—Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee—none have won the strong support of conservatives that Bush captured in the 2000 campaign.
That's kicked off an endorsement chase in which Romney has surged ahead with two big conservative names: Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and Bob Jones III, chancellor of a famous Christian university. McCain famously criticized Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell in his 2000 presidential campaign, but he made his peace with Falwell before the Christian Coalition founder died this year. McCain is now endorsed by fellow Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a leading conservative voice who dropped out of the presidential race and left behind an Iowa organization that McCain sorely needs in that state.
During the same week, Thompson may have hurt himself with his base on NBC's "Meet the Press," when he made this seemingly sensible observation on abortion rights: "I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors." Nor should we have a federal law, he said, that "would take young, young girls . . . and say, basically, we're going to put them in jail."
The keen ears of anti-abortion activists and media quickly detected a tune Thompson probably did not want them to hear, the language of their ideological foes in the pro-choice movement. Another political rule: You can't win the hearts of social conservatives with the vocabulary of Planned Parenthood.
But the biggest GOP surprise may be coming from Bill Clinton's hometown of Hope, Ark. Oddly, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has not attracted a lot of big-name endorsements from clergy, even though he is one. The ordained Southern Baptist minister is a riveting speaker with an engaging personality. He seems to have all the right ideological credentials too. He wants a federal ban on abortion, supports the troop surge in Iraq and supports concealed-weapons permits.
The former governor of one of America's poorest states also says that government's mission should include helping people. What a concept.
He is not shy about expanding children's health care in his state and winning almost half of the African-American vote. He speaks movingly of dealing as a pastor and as a politician with real children and families struggling with real problems such as teen pregnancy, drug addictions and family dysfunction.
For this, fiscal conservatives, such as the Club for Growth, which he has called the "Club for Greed," have branded him a closet liberal. They're entitled to their opinion. But in Iowa, where Huckabee's focusing his campaign and gaining popularity, the caucus-goers appear to like him.
They also like to keep pollsters on their toes by offering up surprises, like giving a boost to a candidate who doesn't view the phrase "compassionate conservative" as a contradiction.
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© 2007, TMS