Romney with advisor Mark Demoss before delivering the commencement address at Liberty University on May 12, 2012 in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The latest e-book from RealClearPolitics’ Carl Cannon and Tom Bevan provides one of the clearest views yet into the Republican primary race — and specifically the disarray among evangelical leaders that helped Mitt Romney win the GOP nomination.
Cool to Romney on account of his shifts on social issues as well as his Mormon faith, Evangelical opposition prolonged the nomination fight, but their inability to coalesce behind a candidate early on ultimately doomed any chance of scuttling the former Massachusetts governor’s chances, Cannon and Bevan write.
As part of their sweeping examination of the 2012 nominating fight, Cannon and Bevan take readers inside the mid-January meeting of evangelical leaders in Texas meant to once again try to find a standard-bearer to challenge Romney. The invitation text, obtained by the authors, said the meeting’s purpose was “attempting to unite and come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate to support or which not to support.”
Mark DeMoss, an evangelical public relations executive, made Romney’s pitch to those at the meeting, arguing that he exemplified the values held dear by the evangelical leaders.
“First, while I am not interested in, nor worried about, giving a platform to Mormon theology, I think this country would benefit from a good dose of Mormon values,” DeMoss said according to Bevan and Cannon. “Their overwhelming commitment to marriage, family, hard work, honesty, integrity, morality, and character is something to be admired and modeled. Frankly, this church’s record in this area often outperforms ours in many ways.”
His advocacy fell on deaf ears as attendees resoundingly rejected Mitt Romney, who only got 4 of 122 votes at the gathering.
But as Bevan and Cannon show, there was little in the way of consensus behind Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich — as evidenced by the dueling press releases both candidates issued the following day declaring victory. Santorum had the largest share of the votes at the end — 75 percent according to Tony Perkins — but only once some Gingrich supports left — either to catch flights home or out of protest.
The outcome did little to alter the political landscape for any of the candidates, leaving the race much as it was before they gathered in Texas. Newt Gingrich won South Carolina days later, reshuffling the race once again, though Santorum ultimately claimed the role of the lone viable anti-Romney candidate.
Hitching their wagon to Santorum proved to have risks, especially given his controversial positions on birth control and the role of religion in public life. But more risky for the future of the political evangelical movement was their inability to coalesce behind a single candidate. With a more unanimous outcome, perhaps Gingrich could have been sidelined sooner, likely not altering the outcome in South Carolina, but in states like Michigan and Ohio where Romney won by tiny margins.
Glancing ahead, Bevan and Cannon recount Gary Bauer being asked this question over and over again by political reporters — to which there is no clear answer. “Doesn’t this show that the day of the religious right is over?”