Party Poopers? James Dobson, Religious Right Allies Threaten to Dump GOP If Presidential Nominee Fails 'Family Values' Test

Article excerpt

Focus on the Family Chairman James C. Dobson emerged from a top-secret, closed-door meeting of the Religious Right in Salt Lake City with some tough talk for the Republican Party: If you nominate a candidate who is pro-choice on abortion, I will walk.

Dobson does not plan to be alone. The New York Times reported Oct. 1 that the FOF head was among a collection of Religious Right leaders who met during a gathering of the Council for National Policy (CNP) Sept. 29. Movement leaders pledged to back a third party if the GOP nominates Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City.

The CNP, an umbrella organization of far-right groups, is normally very secretive about its activities, and talking to the press is strictly verboten. But this time it seemed at least some of the coalition's members were deliberately seeking media attention.

The Times reported that the talk about a third party "emerged from a group that broke away for separate discussions" during the CNP gathering.

"Participants said the smaller group included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps its most influential member; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail pioneer; and dozens of other politically oriented conservative Christians," continued The Times.

The story went on to say, "Almost everyone present at the smaller group's meeting expressed support for a written resolution stating that 'if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third-party candidate,' participants said. The participants said that the group chose the qualified term 'consider' because it had not yet identified an alternative candidate, but that it was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, became the nominee."

Although The Times did not identify its source, it seems likely this explosive story was handed to the newspaper with Dobson's blessing to send a not-so-subtle message to the GOP: If you're thinking of Giuliani, think again.

Dobson and Perkins later turned up the heat. On Oct. 4, Dobson penned an op-ed column for The Times, reiterating that the threat of a third party is real.

Dobson said it is "problematic" to "choose a candidate according to the likelihood of electoral success or failure."

"Polls don't measure right and wrong; voting according to the possibility of winning or losing can lead directly to the compromise of one's principles," Dobson wrote. "In the present political climate, it could result in the abandonment of cherished beliefs that conservative Christians have promoted and defended for decades. Winning the presidential election is vitally important, but not at the expense of what we hold most clear."

Perkins, meanwhile, sent an e-mail to FRC supporters saying there is "no real desire nor are there active plans to create a third party" but quickly added, "What was agreed upon was what could be called a statement of principle, to the effect that if both of the major parties nominate a pro-abortion-rights candidate we will consider supporting a third-party candidate.... I do think it is important that our movement draw a line that we refuse to cross."

The Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association promptly piled on. In an interview with the conservative Washington Times, Wildmon implied that the Religious Right may need to hurt the GOP to teach the party leadership a lesson.

"Every six months before an election, Republicans are our best friends, and six days after the election, they don't even know us," carped Wildmon.

He added, "Here's one thing I'll say about Republicans: They may not win with us, but they cannot win without us. The leadership needs to think seriously and long about that proposition."

Such threats and provocative rhetoric underscore that these are unsettled times politically for the Religious Right. …