The Religious Right is once again flexing its political muscle.
It's odd. Some media analysts say this movement is dead or dying – but the leadership of the Religious Right apparently hasn't gotten the word yet.
Consider a story in today's Washington Times. (Say what you will about that newspaper founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, but it does have its finger right on the pulse of the Religious Right.) The Times reports that prominent Religious Right leaders are creating headaches for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. They brazenly demand the right to pick his vice presidential candidate. And if the race is as close as some expect it will be, McCain just might have to give in.
Religious Right leaders, The Times reports, are alarmed at the prospect that McCain might pick former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney, who sought the GOP presidential nomination himself, has some attractive qualities. He would bring a lot of money to the race and could put Michigan into play.
But Religious Right power-brokers will have none of it. Romney, they say, is a flip-flopper on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Worse yet, he's a Mormon.
"McCain and Romney would be like oil and water," longtime Religious Right warhorse and novelist Tim LaHaye told The Times. "We aren't against Mormonism, but Romney is not a thoroughgoing evangelical and his flip-flopping on issues is understandable in a liberal state like Massachusetts, but our people won't understand that."
Religious Right strategist Gary Bauer told the newspaper that many conservative evangelicals want to see Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, on the ticket. Huckabee sought the nomination as well and started off strong. He pulled off an upset in Iowa and carried several states before flaming out.
Bauer said he does not oppose Romney but added, "A lot of the Huckabee supporters said if Romney is McCain's choice, they would bail out in November." An anonymous source referred to Huckabee's backers as "rabid."
Observed The Times, "Longtime social-conservative leaders such as Phyllis Schlafly, Phil Burress, Donald P. Hodel and Mathew Staver said earlier this month that they can rally their voters around Mr. McCain largely on the issues of abortion and the judiciary, as long as they are confident that the vice-presidential candidate is pro-life. They are skeptical about Mr. Romney's views."
Will this audacious gambit by the Religious Right work? As The Times pointed out, white evangelicals have been an important GOP voting bloc for years. McCain has never been particularly popular in this camp, but he also has no reason to antagonize them, especially now that there have been signs of a warming. James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, once said he would never vote for McCain. Dobson now says he might endorse him.
McCain may already be caving in. Early talk about putting Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, on the ticket died down after Religious Right leaders complained. McCain, trailing in national polls, will need to come to some accommodation with the Religious Right. He can continue to ignore the movement and hope that fear of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama drives the movement's foot soldiers to the polls or he can throw them a big bone with his vice presidential pick. The latter is not out of the question.
As I've said before, I don't believe the Religious Right is on the wane. I've heard that claim too many times over the years to put stock in it now. But let's say, for the sake of argument that the movement is starting to hit the skids. These recent developments show that the Religious Right intends to go down fighting.
Given the budget and reach of some of these groups – Focus on the Family alone raised nearly $130 million in 2006 and broadcasts to five million people every day – I think they still have some clout. I wouldn't count the Religious Right out of campaign 2008 just yet.