With the bare fact being that no Republican in recent memory has been able to win a major contest without at least the tacit backing of the religious right, Rudy Guliani might be trying to buck that trend. While on the surface it may seem like a bad gamble, is Rudy playing the smart card, letting the other candidates fight over the evangelical vote-and keeping himself clean from association with the far-right fringe in the process-hoping that he could hold all the cards at nomination time?
Starting February 17th and going through February 20th in Orlando, Florida, the National Religious Broadcasters will be holding their convention. And as one might expect, Republican candidates are lining up to try to woo the support of the evangelical leaders. For if the past is any indication, evangelicals tend to vote as their leaders suggest. There were some defections in 2006, but none major enough to change the paradigm. So what is Rudy thinking?
Perhaps he realizes that he is not going to get any endorsements there anyway, so why waste his time and tarnish his image as John McCain has. John McCain said in 2000 that “neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance whether the be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.” Of course, once John McCain figured out that he needed that base he changed his stripes rather quickly. In May 2006, he was the commencement speaker at Jerry Falwell’s University. And next week he will be the guest of honor at a Falwell reception.
Mitt Romney will be doing his own work trying to mend fences too. Once pro-choice and a supporter of gay rights, he seems to be sliding those positions more to the right in an attempt to appeal to the far right base. He will be giving the commencement speech at Pat Robertson’s University. This is the same man who once said he would be more of a champion for gay rights than Senator Ted Kennedy. There are candidates more appealing to the evangelicals, like Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback. The problem with them is that they are currently only polling in the single digits.
Howard Fineman, writing for MSNBC, speaks about the ‘Three Kingmakers.” He is of course talking about Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson. According to Fineman, Falwell has already decided on McCain and Robertson is favoring Romney. Leaving only James Dobson as the undecided of the three. The problem is this-how many Americans, in 2008, are going to trust the candidate who ends up with the majority of these three “Kingmakers” behind him?
So maybe Rudy Guliani is playing it smart. He knows that if he is the Republican candidate the evangelical voters will mostly do one of two things. Hold their noses and vote for him over the Democratic candidate, or stay home and not vote at all. Either way will help him.