1. A Third Party Christian Right Candidate? Not a Chance.
Over the weekend, well-placed leaks to The New York Times, Salon, ABC News, and WorldNetDaily spread a story that the clandestine Council for National Policy (CNP) would rather get behind a third-party candidate than back current front-runner Rudy Giuliani. A seat of power for ideological purists, media moguls, and the Christian right’s fundraising aristocracy, the CNP can pull all the necessary strings -- for the right candidate. Back in 1999, George W. Bush sealed the deal with the Christian right with a speech which, eight years later, is still subject to the organization’s double-super-secrecy rules.
The idea that the Christian right would endorse a third-party candidate is ludicrous, given its pathological need to defeat Hillary Clinton and ultimately maintain sway over the White House. Focus on the Family's James Dobson has a history of threatening defection from the GOP to endorse a third-party candidate. He has never followed through because he's savvy enough to know it would render him irrelevant. No doubt the leaks were designed to put pressure on the GOP, not to nominate Giuliani.
But it was Romney's camp that really took offense. The Evangelicals for Mitt blog reacted angrily to the leak as a diss of Romney as well. "Thankfully though, and despite popular opinion, James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Richard Land don't speak for the entire evangelical movement. We're actually capable of making difficult political judgments on our own."
Tell that to John McCain, who this week gave new meaning to desperation.
The courting of the Christian right vote continued. Romney made nice with Pat Robertson's TV camera and later reiterated his commitment to nominating justices "in the strict constructionist mold of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas." (No surprise given that his chief evangelical advisers have been knee-deep in every judicial nomination fight and key Supreme Court case relating to core Christian right issues for the past decade.
Fred Thompson reportedly wowed the CNP with his speech last spring, but many evangelicals have since withheld judgment. Huckabee, declared the GOP's "dark horse" candidate this week by both Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, broke into double digits in a Newsweek poll of likely GOP caucus-goers (albeit with a large margin of error), overtaking Baptist-come-lately McCain for the first time. But Bishop Harry Jackson, whose High Impact Leadership Coalition is co-sponsoring this month's Values Voters Summit along with Dobson's Focus on the Family Action, downplayed Huckabee's ability to raise the campaign cash needed to surge ahead.
Jackson told me this week that Dobson's endorsement, while "a plus," especially among older evangelicals, is not required to win the GOP nomination. Many social conservatives would "hold their nose" and vote for Giuliani in the general election -- and some may well be impressed with his perceived post-9-11 tough guy reputation. What's more, Jackson added, continued fragmentation of support among some of the second and third tier candidates -- Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, and the newly announced Alan Keyes -- could work to Giuliani’s benefit in the primaries. As an added bonus, he would not have to answer charges in the general election that he pandered to the religious right. (Jackson himself may have been lighting fires under some chairs in advance of the Values Voters Summit, where the straw poll could prove to be "a defining moment.")
While a Gallup poll showed strong support for Giuliani among Republican voters who regularly attend church, Hizzoner demonstrated why -- in addition to his positions on gay rights and abortion -- that's not translating into love from James Dobson or any other evangelical power hitters. In his interview with CBN's David Brody last week in Santa Barbara (where he was also skipping the All-American Presidential Forum so he could attend a fundraiser with Bo Derek), Giuliani boasted, "I pray to Jesus." Any student of the Dobson Endorsement Protocol knows that praying is so mainline and that real evangelicals have a personal relationship with Jesus.
2. The March to World War III Continues
Looks like John Hagee might be good at prophesying war after all. After the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution last week, Seymour Hersh reported that Iran war plans continue apace at the White House. According to former Israeli government insider Greg Levey, if the Bush administration doesn't act militarily against Iran, Israel may see its own window of opportunity closing in January 2009.
With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York last week, Rod Parsley, who is a regional director for Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI), pumped up the anti-Ahmadinejad rhetoric on his television broadcast. He juxtaposed this century's Hitler with a sermon in which he rejected land for peace as "appeasement," adding that Israel's "boundaries, my Christian friends, are found in your bible." He regurgitated the end-times scenario from Hagee's Jerusalem Countdown, which includes the Rapture, which could happen at any time: For example, you might be flying across the Atlantic with a suicide bomber on board when suddenly you are whisked away to heaven. Shouting that no one should fear the war that he says is predicted in the book of Ezekiel, Parsley added, "There's nothing that can stop our final flight into the realms of glory!"
3. Hagee Claims His New Book Will Reshape Christian Theology
Hagee has a new book out this week, In Defense of Israel. In a promotion on his television show, Hagee claimed that the book "will expose the sins of the fathers and the vicious abuse of the Jewish people. In Defense of Israel will shape Christian theology. It scripturally proves that the Jewish people as a whole did not reject Jesus as Messiah." Wow! Does this guy love the Jews, or what? You see, according to Hagee, Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah. How then "can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered?" Eschatology or Life of Brian?
4. Evangelicals in Jerusalem
Speaking of missing the Messiah, Jews have another chance right now! Last week marked the start of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which many evangelical followers of biblical prophecy see as the time at which the Second Coming will take place. Evangelicals, including both Hagee and Parsley will host "Feast of Tabernacles" celebrations at their churches in the coming weeks during which they purport to celebrate the Jewish holiday as a return to their "Jewish roots," but in fact promote their prophesies of the Second Coming. (More on this in my forthcoming God's Profits.)
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (which is not an embassy at all but a Christian Zionist group with its eye on Armageddon) held its annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem this week, hosting some big American evangelical names like Jack Hayford, a pastor to influential leaders and one of the overseers of Ted Haggard's "restoration" from homosexuality. Another big name was Robert Stearns, who is also a regional director of CUFI, which has pledged not to proselytize to Jews.
The Chief Rabbinate Council's Committee for the Prevention of Missionary Work in the Holy Land issued an order forbidding Jews from attending the ICEJ event because "some of the bodies gathering there are active, inter alia, in attempting to convert us from our faith." Quoting a well-known Hebrew saying adapted from Proverbs 22:5, the committee added, "One who fears for his soul will stay far away."
5. Can Evangelicals Be Swayed on Global Warming?
Last spring, Harry Jackson was part of a group of Christian right leaders who wrote a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals attacking the organization's vice president for government affairs, Richard Cizik, for taking a stand on global warming. Now that Jackson has been to Alaska and seen the effects of climate change firsthand, he has warmed to the idea of motivating evangelicals to get involved.
In Jackson's view evangelicals have a moral responsibility to reduce dependency on foreign oil and instead rely on cleaner fuels (which includes nuclear power). Setting himself apart from his conservative brethren, Jackson envisions a role for both the U.S. government and the U.N. in addressing global warming, and hopes to persuade fellow conservative evangelicals to join him in viewing the issue as one of both environmental justice and national security. As much as this is a positive sign, I don't think Jackson (who is a registered Democrat) will be making any joint appearances with Al Gore anytime soon. Several times during our interview, Jackson (who is behind ramping up hysterical opposition to the Matthew Shepard bill) labeled An Inconvenient Truth "alarmist." And, he said, he worried that Gore's discussion of population growth suggested a promotion of abortion and euthanasia. Alarmist, indeed.
Next week: More presidential politics, the Day of Prayer for Peace in Jerusalem.