Baptists Join Evangelical Summit Backing SantorumJanuary 16, 2012
Ethics Daily ran my latest article today, which is entitled "Baptists Join Evangelical Summit Backing Santorum." It covers a weekend gathering in Texas of over 150 conservative evangelical pastors and leaders hoping to unite behind one Republican presidential candidate (the photo is one I took in Iowa of Tony Perkins, who emerged as the spokesperson for the Texas gathering). The group gave most of its support to former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, although former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also had strong support. The event demonstrates the discomfort many evangelicals have about former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and their outright disdain for President Barack Obama. It also highlights Texas Governor Rick Perry's dramatic fall from grace since many of those now supporting Santorum or Gingrich were previously backing him. Although the meeting was not an official endorsement, it will likely result in several conservative evangelical leaders--like James Dobson--publicly endorsing Santorum before Saturday's South Carolina primary. This unprecedented meeting and endorsement is a clear sign of the continuing role of confessional politics in today's presidential campaigns.
Not all of those who attended the gathering in Texas are pleased by the outcome. For instance, former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts went on Fox News to complain about the news coverage of the gathering. Watts, who attended the event, is backing Gingrich and is therefore worried the coverage of the vote will hurt his candidate in South Carolina. Some Gingrich backers are even claiming the vote was rigged. Just before the gathering, Gingrich's campaign rolled out several endorsements from key evangelical leaders. Tim and Beverly LaHaye both are now backing Gingrich, which means Perry is definitely being left behind in this campaign. Additionally, Gingrich's campaign announced that its "Faith Leaders Coalition" would be led by author/pollster George Barna, along with with California pastor Jim Garlow, Liberty Council Chairman and Liberty University law professor Matt Staver, American Family Association founder Don Wildmon, and others. Romney is also trying to demonstrate his support with conservative evangelicals--even though he is struggling to win over many evangelical voters--as he announced the support of Jay and Jordan Sekulow of Pat Robertson's American Center for Law & Justice (the Sekulows also supported Romney in 2008). Romney's campaign has also been highlighting his "faith" in South Carolina--but without mentioning his faith is Mormonism. Perry, who is basing his South Carolina campaign on reaching evangelicals, has also been campaigning by talking about his faith. Yet, it seems Perry's campaign has no prayer of winning and can only play a spoiler role and help Romney win over a divided evangelical field. In our age of confessional politics, it seems each candidate is trying to out-God the others.