Some Christian conservatives are so disenchanted by the 2008 Republican field for president that they are mulling whether to desert the GOP and form a third party. We're tempted to say "go ahead." But if religious conservatives don't want to marginalize themselves, they will instead take former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's advice and resist subjecting candidates to a litmus test on abortion or any other single issue.
Giuliani and his fellow Republican candidates spoke over the weekend to more than 2,000 "values voters" assembled in Washington by the Family Research Council and other conservative groups. They were literally preaching to the converted, and they did more than assent to the proposition that religion has a role in the public square. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee promised that his first act as president would be to "go into the Oval Office and close the door and pray for the wisdom to know what was right." The thrice-married Giuliani felt compelled to admit to the group that "I find myself too often failing to reach the ideals of my religious and moral beliefs." Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who recently expressed his preference that the president be a Christian, said he was sustained during his captivity in North Vietnam by "faith in my comrades, faith in my country and faith in my God."
These confessions reflect the clout of Christian conservatives. Yet some in the movement are willing to sacrifice that influence on the altar of absolutism.
Giuliani may be leading the Republican field in national polls; he may be the most formidable general-election opponent for his fellow New Yorker, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; he may even be responsive to the religious right in the one way that presidents can help the antiabortion cause -- by appointing Supreme Court justices likely to reconsider or limit the reach of Roe vs. Wade. But the fact that he supports legal abortion makes him anathema. Giuliani finished next to last in a straw poll done in connection with the values voters meeting, winning less than 2% in a nine-candidate field, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a born-again opponent of abortion, placing first with 27.62% of the vote.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told The Times that he couldn't vote for Giuliani if he were nominated by the Republicans. According to James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, another sponsor of the conference, a recent meeting of "pro-family" leaders in Salt Lake City came to this conclusion: "If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate."
In his speech, Giuliani anticipated such objections, reminding values voters of an observation by Ronald Reagan: "My 80% friend is not my 100% enemy." On the other hand, if that 20% discrepancy drives the movement into the wilderness of third-party politics, thereby diminishing its influence in Washington, you won't hear any complaints from us.