A Religious-Right Suicide Pact

If I believed in God, I’d be tempted to thank him for James Dobson.

Mr. Dobson, the chairman of Focus on the Family and one of the key political organizers on the religious right, has come up with a plan that would all but guarantee the defeat of any candidate remotely sympathetic to his views in the 2008 presidential election.

The dissatisfaction of Mr. Dobson and others of his ilk with the current crop of Republican candidates is well-known. Mr. Dobson has been especially vocal on the subject.

He has stated that he “would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances” and that Fred Thompson “can’t speak his way out of a paper bag.” He has also suggested that Mr. Thompson is not a Christian, a controversial charge even in conservative circles.

But it is the candidacy of the pro-abortion rights, thrice-married Rudy Giuliani that really gives the chills to the most hardline members of the religious right.

In a column in May, Mr. Dobson described the former New York mayor as “an unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand” and added that there were “moral concerns about Giuliani’s candidacy”. He also, in passing, expressed his annoyance about Mr. Giuliani’s penchant for dressing up in drag, referring to it as “ignoble”.

“I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008,” Mr. Dobson concluded. “It is an irrevocable decision.”

With Mr. Giuliani showing greater stamina than many people expected as Republican front-runner, the religious right has begun floating ideas for how he might be stopped from winning the G.O.P. nomination.

They have also begun pondering what to do if – a nightmare scenario for them – he actually becomes the party’s presidential candidate.

These plans began taking concrete form recently at a meeting in Salt Lake City. Mr. Dobson and dozens of other influential ultra-conservatives, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and direct mail guru Richard Viguerie, held a discussion on the sidelines of a networking event.

These activists decided – almost unanimously, according to Mr. Dobson – that they would support a minor party candidate if neither the Republican nor Democratic nominees were sufficiently pro-life for their tastes. An additional proposal – to actually create such a third party – received “some support,” Mr. Dobson noted.

For anyone who, like me, favors government policies that are pro-choice, pro-civil unions and pro-science classes that actually teach science rather than fairy tales, this was welcome news.

But even better was yet to come, in the form of an op-ed article Mr. Dobson wrote for the New York Times the following Thursday.

Mr. Dobson argued that there were two ways of choosing a presidential candidate. One was to “begin with a recommitment to traditional moral values and beliefs.”

The other, he added with stern disapproval, involved choosing a candidate “according to the likelihood of electoral success or failure.”

Mr. Dobson continued: “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…Winning the presidential election is vitally important, but not at the expense of what we hold most dear.”

Mr. Dobson sounded hell-bent – pardon the expression – on replicating the kind of kamikaze thinking that has in recent years characterized the left more often than the right.

To place the ideological purity of one’s position above the messy business of actually winning elections is a mindset usually observed among the Naderite and Sheehanite left. It is also a surefire recipe for failure.

A Religious-Right Suicide Pact