A Right-Wing Plot to Hurt Romney -- and Plague Obama's Second Term?
As Republican voters gathered in Kansas yesterday to hand former U.S. senator Rick Santorum a decisive victory in the state's presidential caucuses, some of the grand pooh-bahs of the religious right came together in Houston, Texas, to declare their intention to raise enough money to keep Santorum in the race for a good long while.
While Santorum came away from Kansas winning 32 of the state's 40 convention delegates, Romney appears to have gained even more in Saturday's contests by picking up 38 delegates from caucuses in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Wyoming -- in addition to the few he won in Kansas. Romney is ahead in the delegate count over all, but Santorum's continued presence in the race could rob Romney of enough delegates to prevent a decisive victory before the Republican National Convention in August.
After a Houston fundraiser for Santorum that drew some 200 conservatives from across the nation, according to Politico's Jonathan Martin, a group of right-wing influentials gathered with Santorum, pledging to raise $1.78 million for the retrogressive Pennsylvanian's campaign.
The group of Santorum high-rollers appears to be drawn from the same cabal of religious-right leaders who gathered at the Texas ranch of former judge Paul Pressler in January to coalesce around the former senator as a way to stop Romney, who is seen as inadequately conservative, and whose Mormon faith became a major point of contention at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in October.
Among the leaders pledging in Houston to keep the Santorum coffers full was Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who was joined by Focus in the Family founder James Dobson and Richard Viguerie, a founder of the religious right who also is credited with helping catapult Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980.
Praying for a miracle?
With the delegate math trending quite forcefully against Santorum, one is prompted to ask, just what are these guys up to? Do they really think Santorum to win? They must really believe in the power of miracles, right?
Or maybe they'd rather have Obama in office for another four years. Yes, really. Think of Bill Clinton's second term, and the plague of investigations and hearings that prevented the president from enacting his agenda. Obama may not be a philanderer, but that doesn't mean the right's water-carriers in Congress won't find some way to create an Obama scandal -- one that will help them raise money and force the next Democratic contender to run from the current president.
It seems to me I've seen this movie before.
In 1996, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was, like Mitt Romney, the "inevitable" Republican nominee. LIke Mitt Romney, Dole pivoted to the right throughout the campaign, all in an effort to win over right-wing evangelical Christians. But nothing worked. And when Dole chose U.S. Sen. Jack Kemp for his running mate -- all in an attempt to shore up his anti-choice credentials -- right-wing leaders were furious. Kemp was not one of theirs; he opposed a federal balanced-budget amendment and supported federal anti-poverty efforts.
Like Romney, Dole just never seemed to get it. While covering the campaign for Mother Jones, I asked Dole if he was concerned about the influence of the religious right in the race.
"I think their normal activity is--they're worried about jobs," he replied. They're worried about a balanced budget, they're worried about a tax cut for families with children...."
Sound familiar? After he raised right-wing hackles after saying he didn't support a Senate amendment that would have allowed a "conscience" exception from a requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services that employer-provided health insurance include no-copay coverage for prescription contraception, Romney sought to pivot his campaign message back to the economy, as if by doing so, he could assuage the concerns of right-wingers over his lack of conservative credentials.
At a rally in Boston on Super Tuesday, Romney's wife, Ann, put it this way: "Do you know what women care about?” she said. “Women care about jobs. Women care about the economy. They care about their children, and they care about the debt.”
Dole v. Buchanan: The Sequel
In 1996, presidential contender Pat Buchanan spent the better part of the G.O.P. primary season battering Bob Dole. But even after he dropped out of the primary race, Buchanan was hardly done. With the encouragement of right-wing leaders, he dangled the threat of walking his delegates out of the Republican National Convention and into the waiting arms of Howard Phillips' U.S. Taxpayers Party (now the Constitution Party), a hard-core right-wing outfit with a platform based on the Christian Reconstructionism of the segregationist theologian R.J. Rushdoony.
Buchanan waited until the day before the convention began to make clear his intentions that he would stick with the G.O.P. In exchange for that promise, Buchanan won control of the party platform, which was a death sentence for the Dole campaign, leaving the long-serving Kansas pol to run against incumbent President Bill Clinton on an agenda authored by Phyllis Schaffly and Buchanan's sister, Bay.
Right-wing leaders apparently decided they'd rather have the Republicans lose the presidency in 1996 so that they would have Bill Clinton to kick around for another four years, affording them the opportunity to raise funds and organize for an open contest in 2000, when their candidate would not have to face an incumbent president. So they set out to wound Dole so badly that he never had a chance in what would have otherwise still been a difficult contest. Then they unleashed the hounds of hell on Bill Clinton, turning his second turn into a years-long prurient inquisition over the president's lie about an affair he had with a White House intern.
increasingly, it appears that a similar plan is being hatched. Santorum will be shored up long enough to wound Romney. He may not win the number of delegates -- 1,144 -- needed to become the Republican presidential nominee, but he could deprive Romney of making that mark if he stays in long enough. I don't expect Santorum to make a third-party threat, but if Romney doesn't win the full 1,144 he needs to claim the nomination outright, Santorum may be in a position to exact concessions from party leaders in exchange for delegates.
Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform, is no doubt gearing up his investigation machine, and running the hounds of hell through their training paces, chasing a sweaty tee shirt emblazoned with the words "Hope" and "Change." Which is why, of the dozens of races for national office this year, the contest for the presidency is just one. Perhaps as important are the dozens of races that add up to a battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.