Back in the fall of 2007, I attended the Family Research Council's "Values Voter Summit." The Republican presidential field was quite crowded then, and all of the major contenders showed up to seek the Religious Right's support.
Some were received with more enthusiasm than others. Mike Huckabee was a big hit, while Fred Thompson fizzled. The reaction to U.S. Sen. John McCain was polite but restrained.
A straw poll was held, and the results clearly indicated the depth of the Religious Right's antipathy toward McCain. He came in dead last, edged out even by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter!
Back then, various Religious Right honchos talked a tough line about McCain. Among them was James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Dobson went so far as to say he would never vote for McCain.
Flash forward to fall of 2008. Suddenly McCain doesn't look so bad to the Religious Right. One by one, its leaders have climbed aboard the McCain bandwagon. Yesterday, Dobson officially flip-flopped and offered McCain his endorsement.
On the air, Dobson read from a letter Focus on the Family Action, his more overtly political operation, is sending to supporters this month. In the letter, Dobson explains why "those who embrace a biblical worldview" must vote for McCain.
Employing some creative verbal judo, Dobson attempted to argue that he's not really endorsing the Arizona senator.
"While I will not endorse either candidate this year...I can say I'm now supportive of Sen. John McCain in his bid for the presidency," he said.
Dobson then went on to list four reasons why listeners should vote for McCain (McCain opposes abortion, the GOP 2008 platform is extremely conservative, McCain selected evangelical Christian Sarah Plain as his running mate and Democratic nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is too liberal). He harshly criticized Obama for his views and attacked his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden. His arguments were a rehash of various GOP talking points against the Obama-Biden ticket.
Dobson can split all of the hairs he wants. His broadcast is obviously an endorsement of McCain. It shows once again how top leaders of the Religious Right, who claim to be a leading a movement that puts principle above party, long ago became a collection of partisan operatives who make the necessary political compromises to try to keep their hold on power.
More than a year ago, as I sat in the ballroom during the Values Voter Summit listening to McCain and the other GOP hopefuls, I felt reasonably confident that if McCain got the nod, Dobson would end up falling in line.
He didn't disappoint me. Listening to his message yesterday, it seemed to me the only thing missing was an audio clip from McCain at the end: "I'm John McCain, and I approve this message."