Religious vote is divided

Monday, November 12, 2007

Religious conservatives were once a crucial voting block within the Republican Party, and a power to be reckoned with among the electorate in general.

This year, conservative Christians are hopelessly divided and ineffectual. The final blow to any hope for the conservative Christians to be a force this political season occurred when TV preacher Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani's bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

Robertson, who ran for president himself in 1988 and united conservative Christians through a Christian Coalition organization and a Christian Broadcasting Network, stunned fellow evangelists with an endorsement of Giuliani.

While no major Republican candidate satisfies all litmus tests of conservative Christians, not since Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas dropped out of the race, it is hard to imagine any Republican less appealing to the religious right than Giuliani.

The former New York mayor has been married three times. He supports gay rights and is pro-choice on abortion. He believes in strong gun control laws.

And he is Catholic. While being Catholic does not preclude taking positions that would be acceptable to conservative Protestants (actually his personal history of divorce and his support of abortion rights are inconsistent with Catholic doctrine), the base of the Christian Coalition is fundamentalist Protestant. Fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics tend to mistrust each other when it comes to political power.

Although Robertson at 77 has undoubtedly lost clout because of statements that were controversial both to his supporters and to the general public, he remains the most visible spokesman for the religious right. His endorsement of Giuliani makes an independent or third party run by a conservative Christian even more remote than it is now.

We doubt that many of Robertson's fellow evangelists will follow his lead. They will remain divided primarily between John McCain and Mitt Romney.

McCain received the endorsement of former conservative favorite Sam Brownback.

Mitt Romney comes closest to passing all the litmus tests of conservatives but his membership in the Church of Latter -day Saints (Mormons) makes him even more removed than Catholics from Protestant fundamentalism.

Romney did have polygamist Mormon great-grandparents but he is certainly not a polygamist. He is actually the only major Republican candidate to have been married only once. It is hard to understand why Romney is so unpalatable to many in the religious right.

It is possible that Christian conservatives will again have a powerful voice, but don't expect it to happen during this presidential campaign.