Just in case anybody in Republican elite circles wasn’t paying attention over the weekend when Christian Right leaders gathered in Salt Lake City and then threatened to abandon the GOP if Rudy Giuliani is its presidential candidate, two of those leaders stood on some of the largest MSM soapboxes to repeat The Threat.
On Monday night, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins went on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show and suggested not very subtly that conservative evangelical defections would make a Giuliani nomination “Hillary Clinton’s ticket to the White House.” And today, Perkins’ mentor, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, has an op-ed column in the New York Times making it clear that while Christian Right leaders aren’t united on a lot of things (including a candidate for president), they are united in the determination to take a walk if Rudy’s leading the ticket in 2008.
The timing and nature of The Threat is hardly coincidental. As yesterday’s Washington Post/ABC poll illustrated, electability is far and away Giuliani’s most valuable credential: fully half of Republicans in that poll said Rudy was the strongest candidate on that front. Perkins and Dobson are trying to raise every possible doubt about the ultimate truth of that proposition.
Sometimes threats are empty, of course. At The FundamentaList, Sarah Posner dismisses this one:
The idea that the Christian right would endorse a third-party candidate is ludicrous, given its pathological need to defeat Hillary Clinton and ultimately maintain sway over the White House. Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has a history of threatening defection from the GOP to endorse a third-party candidate. He has never followed through because he’s savvy enough to know it would render him irrelevant. No doubt the leaks were designed to put pressure on the GOP, not to nominate Giuliani.
Talk like that, of course, will also put pressure on Christian Right leaders to put up or shut up, and the real test of The Threat down the road will be the relative willingness of rank-and-file conservative evangelicals to rule out Rudy, and more importantly, to unite behind a candidate who could actually beat him.