In recent elections the so-called "religious right" has demonstrated a powerful influence. Beginning in the late 1970s with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, it has exerted impressive clout in the Republican Party at both state and national levels, arguably providing George W. Bush with the support that won him the GOP nomination in 2000 and even giving him the push that then propelled him into the White House.
It is not too much to say that no one aspiring to a Republican presidential nomination can now afford to do without the support, or at least the tacit approval, of the religious right. All of the major contenders for the 2008 nomination -- John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson -- affirm their personal devotion to religious principles, and there seems no reason to doubt their sincerity.
But that, of course, is not to say that all four are equally persuasive in their statements on the subject of the importance of religion as a component of their worldview, and hence as a factor in their approach to policy issues. Of the four, Romney is probably the least vulnerable on the matter, since he makes no bones about his devout Mormonism -- indeed, he has come under criticism from adherents of other denominations precisely because of it. McCain and Thompson have been less outspoken, but have thus far successfully avoided letting the subject become a major issue among their critics. Giuliani, a nominal Roman Catholic who does not attend Mass and is currently married to his third wife, has raised eyebrows among some seriously religious political observers, but the effect of this has hitherto been unclear.
In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the religious right has not thus far settled on one contender as its favorite -- as it unmistakably (and successfully) did in recent presidential elections. Some of its opponents have eagerly taken this as a sign of what The New York Times recently hailed as "the deep divide in the Christian conservative movement," but it is actually more an indication that the religious right is at least relatively satisfied with the religious credentials of all the likely Republican contenders. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who is an outspoken Christian conservative and had briefly hoped to be the Republican nominee himself, has thrown his support to McCain. Romney and Thompson have picked up the backing of a number of other conservative religious figures. And now Pat Robertson, a leading Christian conservative by any standard (he also controls the Christian Broadcasting Network), has "stunned" various easily stunned people by endorsing Giuliani!
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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