of prominent Christian conservatives over the Republican
presidential contenders reflects a schism -- between the
dogma of God, guns, and gays and the desire to beat
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
disagreement within this important Republican voting bloc
culminated this week in a flurry of endorsements:
Robertson is backing Rudy Giuliani. Conservative
senator Sam Brownback is supporting fellow senator John
McCain. Moral Majority cofounder Paul Weyrich is going
for Mitt Romney.
candidates are flawed in the eyes of the Christian right,
which is why some evangelical leaders are holding out
and might favor a third-party candidate.
''You've got a
wide-open primary, and you have various people who are
ideologically acceptable -- not perfect, but ideologically
acceptable,'' Brownback said in an interview Wednesday
with the Associated Press.
acceptable and can win, that's better than losing,''
Brownback said, speaking by telephone on a campaign swing
through Iowa with McCain. ''I think you're seeing a
more pragmatic expression taking place.''
For his part,
Robertson said he worries not about electability but about
terrorists. Also, he feels reassured that Giuliani would
appoint Supreme Court justices who view abortion from
a conservative stance.
''To me, the
overriding issue before the American people is the defense
of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic
terrorists,'' Robertson said.
''I don't think
evangelicals have coalesced around any candidate,'' he
said Wednesday in Washington, with Giuliani at his side. ''I
just believe that I needed to make a statement, and I
am speaking for myself, that...Rudy Giuliani is,
without question, an acceptable candidate.''
There is very
little any politician can do about abortion without a major
shift in the federal judiciary, Robertson said, and Giuliani
has promised to appoint judges in the mold of Chief
Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court justices Samuel
Alito and Antonin Scalia.
Not everyone will
take a favorable view of Robertson's endorsement. While
his television show, The 700 Club, draws an
estimated 1 million viewers daily, many evangelicals have
distanced themselves from him. He drew criticism
shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks for
saying they happened because Americans had insulted God
and lost the protection of heaven by allowing abortion and
''rampant Internet pornography.''
Wednesday he got to know Robertson well on a long flight
''I came away
from it with a better understanding of Pat, what he's all
about, what he's trying to accomplish,'' he said. ''And I
think he came away with a different impression of me,
as well. We see the world, in many ways, the same way.
Doesn't mean we agree on everything.''
This is not the
first time evangelicals have split. In 1996 they were
divided for months between former senator Bob Dole and
conservative pundit Pat Buchanan. Christian
conservatives rallied late in the process around
Buchanan, but Dole became the nominee and later lost to Bill
do not rally behind a single Giuliani rival, that could
help the former New York City mayor, who is the Republican
front-runner in national polls.
describing themselves as evangelical or born-again
Christians, 24% have said they would vote for former senator
Fred Thompson and 20% for Giuliani, according to
Associated Press-Ipsos polls. Some 22% didn't
have a favorite candidate.
As for Giuliani,
''he's working relentlessly to try and curry favor with
conservatives,'' said Republican consultant Greg Mueller,
who noted that Giuliani made a special trip to
Washington last month to ask Brownback for support.
''He's trying to find common ground, because he knows he's
not seem to feel all that good about any of their
Not only does
Giuliani back abortion rights, the former mayor has been
married three times and has had frosty relations with his
still have bad blood with McCain, who has feuded for years
with them and in 2000 called Robertson and Jerry Falwell
''agents of intolerance.''
And there is
mistrust of Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, both
because he has changed his mind on issues like abortion and
because of his Mormon faith.
are trying to take advantage of these flaws; Thompson
began running TV ads in Iowa this week promoting his
conservative voting record. Former Arkansas governor
Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, reminds
voters he is a die-hard social conservative.
within the movement may run deeper than in the 1990s. The
Christian right is maturing and has a new generation of
leaders interested in issues beyond abortion and
same-sex marriage, such as the environment and Darfur
pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren invited Sen.
Barack Obama to speak at an AIDS summit at his megachurch
last year, despite Obama's support for abortion
''Part of this
may very well be generational change,'' said John Green,
senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
right has been around for about 30 years,'' Green said.
''Its founders are long in the tooth -- Falwell passed away;
Robertson is in his 70s. There is a new generation of
leaders coming up behind them that see things
he's been caught up in the generational discord.
''There is a
divide within the movement on topics like the environment
and, to some degree, immigration,'' said Brownback, who has
endured criticism for supporting a path to citizenship
for illegal immigrants. ''I've felt the buffeting from
He predicted that
in the coming weeks, candidates will start talking
about issues important to the new generation of evangelical
leaders, such as poverty. Differences are not always
bad, he said.
''I think it's
actually a good thing; I think it broadens the movement,''
he said. ''That probably is a more realistic picture of the
faith too. It's more faith-oriented, not less.''
(Libby Quaid, AP)