The death of the Republican Party, so often rumored (and, among some, wished for) in recent years was explicitly threatened last week. Not by Democrats, but by one of its own most important figures.
James Dobson, head of the Christian “pro-family” organization known as Focus on the Family, wrote a New York Times op-ed last week in which he describes a meeting he recently held with “more than 50 pro-family leaders” in Salt Lake City, at which was discussed what they would do in the event that both major parties nominate candidates who are not pro-life.
The conclusion? The group agreed, almost unanimously, to support a third-party candidate. And with the very pro-choice Rudy Giuliani leading in the GOP polls, such a scenario looms as a not-small possibility.
Dobson is now, and has for many years, been an insidious figure in our national politics, serving mostly to pass the judgment on the religious fealty both of specific political candidates, and of the nation as a whole. A layman who is much more a political operator than any sort of religious leader, Dobson is an extremist who can fairly be called the Michael Moore of the right – with the difference being that Dobson has much more influence on the White House than Moore ever would on a Democratic administration.
That Dobson and his group (a mysterious consortium known as the “Council for National Policy”) have the power to force a radical realignment of U.S. politics is sad enough. But the threat almost certainly is a bluff.
Dobson may be one of most despicable individuals in our political firmament, but he's not stupid. He knows he can’t possibly win with a third-party candidate, and there aren’t exactly any candidates out there who make sense as standard-bearers for such an effort. Dobson also wrote that “no consensus emerged” about whether to actually create a new third party, as opposed to only backing a candidate.
With President Bush’s popularity ratings in the toilet and no Republican presidential candidate emerging to capture the imagination of the GOP base, the formula for victory in 2000 and 2004 is looking impossible to repeat. For one thing, the party’s religious base has caught on to the party’s penchant for talking non-stop about social issues at election time, but then subordinating those issues to big-business economic concerns once in office.
The candidates aren’t resurrecting that formula either, and it’s not just Rudy. Mitt Romney, ostensibly the strongest “conservative” candidate, was a social liberal as recently as 10 years ago, which is to say nothing the skepticism many evangelicals have about his Mormonism. John McCain has been distrusted by the Christian right for years because he has dared to criticize their influence in the past, while Fred Thompson has flat-out been declared “not a Christian” by the Grand Inquisitor (Dobson) himself.
As for Guiliani, he has staked out an early lead, by campaigning in a unique way. He has realized that, to large segments of today's Republican base, the question of how conservative one is has little to do with their actual positions, and a lot to do with how much they hate the left. (It works the other way too. Bill O'Reilly seems to define how left-wing someone is by the sole criterion of . . . how much they hate Bill O'Reilly.)
It’s working for now, when no one has voted yet, and those not yet following the race may not even know the vicissitudes of Rudy’s various social issue positions. That, and Rudy’s strategy of invoking 9/11, hypnosis-like, every two or three minutes, have kept him in the lead thus far. But Giuliani’s long-term viability as a candidate is not strong – meaning that Dobson’s threat is very likely a bluff.
Fealty to the Republican Party has traditionally been Dobson’s goal, and besides, quixotic campaigns meant to “teach a lesson” to one party have traditionally been the province of the left.
Ask most leftists how they feel that whole Ralph Nader experiment went for them.
© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.