Will the wingnuts make this a three-way race?

The threat has been there for months, simmering under the surface--religious conservatives aren't satisfied with the frontrunners on the Republican side, but see Hillary Clinton as Satan's lesbian lover, and so are torn. Rudy Giuliani has lots of socially liberal baggage (though if you think he wouldn't sell out abortion and gay rights for the support of the wingnuts, you're delusional), and Mitt Romney is, well, a Mormon. Fred Thompson isn't quite as conservative as he was first billed, and Mike Huckabee can't get anyone to give him any money, and without money, you're not a candidate.

Third party, anyone?

NEWSWEEK: So we wanted to ask you, first of all, about the third-party idea and whether it's serious. A number of people are suggesting it's just a threat.

Richard Land: My intuition [is that] this is not a bluff. If Giuliani is the nominee there will be a third party. There are things that Giuliani could do to help mitigate the damage. But I have been in too many discussions over the last 15 years where evangelical leaders have said, "The one thing we will never allow to happen is for the Republican Party to take us for granted the way the Democratic Party too often takes the African-American community for granted."
This is not a bluff.

He might be serious. I hope he is, for purely selfish reasons. After all, he's at least honest enough to admit that if it happens, his candidate won't win.
[NEWSWEEK]: So what you are saying, as a bottom line, is that you would be prepared to help Hillary [Clinton] get elected if Giuliani were in the race?

[Richard Land]:Well, I personally wouldn't be saying that … It's just [that] I'm not willing or able to violate my moral conscience. It would be like asking an African-American to choose between Strom Thurmond and George Wallace or asking Abe Lincoln to vote for a pro-slavery candidate. I personally can't do it. I am not going to criticize those who choose the lesser-of-two-evils option. [But] I can't do it, and my guess is somewhere between 25 percent and a third of our people won't do it.

Let's set aside for the moment the disgusting rhetoric that compares Hillary Clinton to a couple of racist segregationists, and look at the numbers. He acknowledges that no more than a third of his people, that is, social conservative evangelicals, would refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee. Those aren't winning numbers--they're spoiler numbers. And if Land has an inflated sense of the number of people who listen to him, they're Nader numbers, or worse.

I suppose an overconfident person would say, it really doesn't matter--the Democratic party nominee is probably going to romp in 2008, barring some extraordinary event in the meantime, so a third party would mean the difference between a 6 point victory and an 8 point victory, and if this election does become more of a referendum on which party gets to lead than on which personality inhabits the White House, that's probably the case. Most Republican strategists are basically ceding 2 to 6 Senate seats and a handful of House races already. So why even talk about further dividing the already weakened conservative vote?

I think part of it has to do with the idea among socially conservative evangelicals that big losses are purifying acts. In his book American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, while discussing the rise of the Southern Baptist Convention after the Civil War writes:
Because of its theological weight, Scripture could not be abandoned when the Confederacy experienced disheartening reverses, as with the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863 or Lee's defeat at Gettysburg. Searching again, southerners opened their Bibles to different passages. In the words of James McPherson, "Like Job, many southerners concluded that God was testing their faith as a preparation for reformation and deliverance; as a southern woman put it, 'The Lord loveth whom he chasteneth.'"

Besides, God's chosen people had been led into captivity before--by the Egyptians and the Babylonians---only to eventually triumph. In Still Fighting the Civil War, David Goldfield concluded that "southerners not only accepted adversity; they wore it as a hair shirt of faith...As white evangelicals restored southern pride and dignity, they convinced themselves that the war has been part of a grand design, as one minister noted in 1866: 'God is working out larger ends that those which concern us as a people.'"
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For this small group of people, a massive loss for not only their candidate, but the party candidate they deemed unacceptable has a twofold benefit. First, they're able to feel pure about their personal decision, and second, they can look at the coming experience under the winner--the evil one, if you will--as a chance to prove their faithfulness under fire.

If that rhetoric sounds familiar, that's because it is. There's precious little difference between that logic and the Nader's arguments in 2000, that we have to allow the country to be destroyed by conservatives before people will believe that it needs rebuilding. I think he's been proven right--conservatism has indeed done considerable damage to the country--but I'd rather he hadn't been so instrumental in proving the case, because the last 7 years have come at considerable cost to a lot of innocent people along the way.

So will Land and Dobson make good on their threat to run a third party candidate if Giuliani is the party nominee? My gut tells me no, if only because they have a personal stake involved. If they go third party and the election is even remotely close, they'll be pariahs in the party, and never trusted again, and they know that. Why take that risk? You only do it if you're a true believer in the power of purifying pain. I'm cynical about the depths to which fundamentalist believers actually believe their own mouthings, though perhaps I shouldn't be, given my background. Gary Bauer started the process at the recent Values Voters convention by playing the "Even Rudy is better than Hillary" card, though he was alone in doing it. I don't blame Dobson and Land for holding out--why concede before the nomination process is done?--but the cynic in me says that they'll say exactly the same thing in 2008, once the nominee is selected, and it's not Mike Huckabee.

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