A few days ago, I proclaimed that Mitt Romney had finally become the official "social conservative alternative."
That lasted for about two days. ... And then today Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani ... and Sen. Sam Brownback endorsed John McCain.
Clearly, the other candidates are not willing to concede the social conservative vote to Romney. And they were wise to haul out these endorsements now ... before it got away from them.
The Fix put it this way:
The endorsement will definitely slow Romney's momentum with social conservatives. Romney had recently secured the backing of conservative stalwarts Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III -- endorsements that seemed to strengthen his bid to become the electable conservative alternative to Giuliani. Romney had made no secret of his desire for Robertson's endorsement and has to be disappointed this morning.
Still, I can't help but believe there are extenuating circumstances behind today's two endorsements.
Sam Brownback's endorsement of John McCain isn't quite so surprising when you consider they are both Senators, and that McCain has the most solid pro-Life record of any candidate still in the race. Additionally, it's no secret that Brownback and Romney were rivals.
But regardless of why Brownback endorsed McCain, his endorsement could help McCain with social conservatives in places like Iowa -- and also help provide an actual Iowa organization for him to use. If McCain finishes second or third in Iowa, and then first in New Hampshire (which is not beyond the realm of possibility), who knows what happens?
Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani was also huge because it essentially says you can be an Evangelical -- and still, in good faith -- support Rudy Giuliani.
While this endorsement isn't likely to spark a chain of other high-level endorsements (in recent years, Robertson has become more of a maverick, and less of a movement leader), Robertson's endorsement probably has more weight at the grassroots level than at the leader level.
So I guess I still stand by my point that Paul Weyrich's endorsement of Romney is the most likely to create a domino effect of top-down social conservative support. The question is whether or not Romney's leaders still have a real constituency ...
In my view, the most important endorsements don't just win you the support of other inside-the-beltway "leaders". The best endorsments win over rank-and-file conservative voters. Nationally, it could be Robertson who wins the most regular social conservatives. But Brownback's supporters are targeted near Iowa, and you could argue that that's more important ...
On a slightly different note, it is truly surprising how fractured the conservative movement has become. Anyone who still believes there is a "vast right-wing conspiracy" is surely not paying attention ...