Much has been made of John McCain's uneasy relationship with religious conservatives. Some say that it makes it impossible for McCain to be a viable candidate for the Republican party. But what if McCain offers religious conservatives a New Deal?
McCain appeals to conservative critics
By LIBBY QUAID, Associated Press Writer Wed Feb 6, 5:56 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Republican John McCain, more than halfway to his party's presidential nomination, told his conservative critics Wednesday to dial back their animosity and personally reached out to a leading Christian conservative.
"I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there's areas we can agree on," McCain said at a news conference in a Phoenix airport hangar before he flew here.
The Rev. Jonathan Falwell, son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell who made the religious right a political force when he founded the Moral Majority in 1979, disclosed Wednesday that he had a telephone talk with McCain within the past 24 hours. Falwell, who succeeded his father as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchville, Va., said he wasn't ready to endorse a candidate but wanted to hear more from the Arizona senator on the issues.
"I look forward to seeing what McCain's plan is to unite the party," Falwell said, "and to see what he has to say in the coming days on the social agenda." He also expressed interest in hearing more from McCain on national security, the economy, Supreme Court nominees, and "how to protect human life and traditional marriage."
Falwell said McCain's call was the culmination of a couple months of contact he has had with McCain's staff.
McCain had a falling out with Christian conservatives during his 2000 presidential campaign when he called the elder Falwell and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance." But McCain made up with the elder Falwell in 2006 and spoke to graduating seniors that year at Liberty University. The school was founded by the elder Falwell and is now run by Jerry Falwell Jr., who last November endorsed McCain's rival, Mike Huckabee, himself an ordained Baptist minister. [...]
(bold emphasis mine) So McCain kissed and made up with Jerry Falwell before he died, and now he's meeting with Falwell's son and heir, Jonathan. Jonathan's older brother, Jerry Falwell Jr., endorsed Mike Huckabee. Hmmmm...
Sounds like McCain has been planning this outreach for a while. It's interesting to note he's reaching out to the Falwells, one of whom is a Huckabee supporter. It's also interesting to note who he is NOT reaching out to:
[...] He said he has no plans to reach out personally to Limbaugh or Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, but emphasized: "Our message will be that we all share common principles, common conservative principles, and we should coalesce around those issues in which we are in agreement and I hope respectfully disagree on a few specific issues there's disagreement on."
He later told reporters aboard his campaign plane: "I'm aware there's a very fine line between inspiring in unity and pandering. You know, you've got to present it in the right way, of course."
The conservative critique of McCain escalated Tuesday when Dobson released a statement saying: "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative, and in fact has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are." Conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter has said she'd vote and campaign for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton if McCain is the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has said a McCain nomination would destroy the Republican party. [...]
Destroy the Republican party? It sounds like McCain realizes the party is already split and floundering, and he's going to try to pull together a new coalition. But it will not be the Reagan Coalition. I think he recognizes the Huckabee evangelicals discontent, and their unwillingness to vote for Mitt Romney. At this point, he's not interested in reaching out to conservative critics like Limbaugh and Dobson, who were Romney supporters. Actually I don't know if Dobson supported Romney, but he sure didn't support McCain.
Dobson has officially endorsed Huckabee. From AP:
Christian Leader James Dobson Endorses Huckabee for GOP Nod
James Dobson, one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical Christian leaders, backed Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid Thursday night, giving the former Arkansas governor a long-sought endorsement as the Republican field narrowed to a two-man race. In a statement first obtained by The Associated Press, Dobson reiterated his declaration on Super Tuesday that he could not in good conscience vote for John McCain, the front-runner, because of concerns over the Arizona senator’s conservative credentials. [...]
Dobson is concerned about McCain's conservative credentials? But he apparently has no concerns about these credentials of Huckabee's:
Why Huckabee is NOT a good GOP candidate
Some of us can read, and we read more than just the Bible. Some of us understand what party politics is about, how it works and how and why we need to form alliances and work within the Republican party, so we can actually win elections and have a voice that matters. Smart evangelicals know and understand this.
Romney gave a very good speech at CPAC yesterday, explaining why he was stepping aside, for the good of America. Huckabee ISN'T stepping aside... for the good of himself.
John McCain is trying to form a new coalition and bring the party together. If Huckabee and his supporters like Dobson continue to divide the party, they may find they are no longer part of it. Perhaps that would not be a bad thing.