McCain Says He’s Uniting the GOP Behind Him, But Many on the Right Have Yet to Get That Message

Clinton-Obama may be holding the media spotlight, but offstage all kinds of other things are happening that may yet influence who winds up in the White House.

The Wall Street Journal gave us some insight the other day by describing rumblings inside a Republican party still trying to digest a McCain nomination. As I’ve noted in this space earlier, McCain may have won many of the early Republican primaries, but in most states, two-thirds of the Republicans who voted preferred someone else. Many of those anti-McCain Republicans are still unconvinced.

Here’s a sampling:

Focus on The Family Leader James Dobson:

“(McCain) has not reached out to pro-family leaders or changed any of the positions that have troubled them. He still believes, for example, that federal money should be allocated for laboratory experiments with tiny human embryos, after which they would be killed when they are no longer useful. He continues to favor allowing each state to create its own definition of marriage, potentially giving the nation 50 different legal interpretations. One of his senior advisors asserted recently on Fox News that ‘the right’ can just go its own way, stating that McCain can win by attracting moderates and crossover Democrats. That seems to be the strategy.”

David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union:

“Senator McCain hasn’t really made conservatives believe they’re involved in a common enterprise. The party is far from united because every time Sen. McCain takes a step forward among conservatives, by bringing one of them into his inner circle, for example, he does something to negate it.”

And then there’s this from the web site, a respected voice in right wing issues and politics:

“..Is 2008 the year when a third-party candidate would find some traction among those disaffected by the abortion, marriage and national security stances found in the records of the three front-runners left in the race? Charles Lewis, national outreach director for Christian Exodus, is one of those behind the launch of the new Save America Summit website, and believes it’s not only time, it’s overdue.

“Even the national conservative pundits who have drunk the Koolaid have to say ‘hold your nose and vote for McCain,'” Lewis told WND. “Not one of them recommended voting for McCain in a primary.”

“We have lots of radio talk show hosts, and we aim to recruit more. There are thousands and thousands of Christian radio talk shows. As momentum grows, the pundits that have so reluctantly fallen into line behind McCain will feel the movement. Our goal is to reach a certain critical mass where they’re going to have to stop telling people to stay home or vote for Hillary.”

So where would disgruntled conservatives go if they bail out on McCain? There’s been a lot of talk about rallying around a Constitutional Party nominee, possibly the party’s founder, Howard Phillips. Others mentioned include Alan Keyes, who made a brief, largely invisible appearance in the Republican presidential contest, and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. The Constitution Party already has qualified for the ballot in 15 states, according to its web site. The party’s national convention is scheduled for April 23 in Kansas City, Missouri.

None of this has attracted much attention from the national press, but a right wing candidacy appealing to evangelical voters could certainly draw more votes away from McCain than a Nader candidacy is likely to draw from the Democratic Party nominee.

McCain is also being challenged by a newly resurgent Libertarian movement. Largely unnoticed, Ron Paul die-hards in recent weeks all but took over Republican state conventions in Washington state and Minnesota, electing many of their people as delegates, guaranteeing a noisy Libertarian presence at the Republican national convention.

More threatening to McCain is the apparent decision of former Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, a highly credible right wing spokesman, to run for president as the Libertarian Party candidate. Ron Paul won from 5 to 10 percent of the vote in many GOP primaries. A Barr candidacy, based on the same message and driven by many of those energized by Paul, could do serious damage to McCain.

Neither an evangelical candidate or a high visibility Libertarian on the ballot would likely challenge for any state’s electoral votes. But as we saw in 2000 with Ralph Nader, even a few percentage points in closely contested states can tip the balance. In both the 2000 and 2004 elections, the outcome was decided by fewer than 6% in 18 states. Florida essentially split its vote between Gore and Bush, and Nader’s 1 1/2% clearly made a difference.

And Libertarians, particularly, are using their new-found energy to heavily recruit candidates for Congress—also complicating matters for Republicans.

The presidential nominating campaign has been quite a drama. But it looks as if there are many twists and turns of the plot yet to go before we get to the final chapter.

Joe Rothstein is a veteran national political strategist and media producer and editor of He can be contacted at


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