The Council for National Policy is a rather secretive group of Christian donors, activists, and leaders led by Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council. They are meeting at this moment as part of a two-day conference in an effort to find a single GOP presidential candidate to back. The idea is a very promising one, but actually reaching the goal is quite unlikely.
There are, at last count, 19 candidates for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016. In such a highly fragmented field, there is a risk that an interest group might be represented by more than one candidate. As a result, that group’s vote could be split among various candidates, and all of them would wind up losing. The concept of agreeing on a single evangelical candidate avoids this, and it could well start a bandwagon effect that proves irresistible. There isn’t a pressure group on the right, left or in the middle that doesn’t want that kind of sway in a nominating campaign.
The trouble with the idea, however, lies in its roots. There are several candidates who claim a bit of the evangelical banner. Former Arkansas Governor and Fox News commentator Mick Huckabee, for example, is an ordained Baptist minister. Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is an arch-Catholic, well-respected beyond the Church of Rome. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas are both sons of a preacher man.
Others understand the power of the pulpit, and have made various claims about their own religion to curry favor. Rick Perry of Texas says finding religion helped turn his life around when he was a young man. Carly Fiorina, formerly CEO of Hewlitt Packard, says faith saved her from “desperate sadness” after losing her daughter to drug addiction. Louisian’s Bobby Jindal has said, “The single most important moment in my life is the moment that I found Jesus Christ.” One has no reason to doubt any of them. What is important here is to note just how many options the evangelicals have at this stage.
“It’s a good-bad scenario,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, an Iowa-based advocacy group for social conservatives in a Wall Street Journal piece. “It’s bad because we could divide our votes. It’s good because we have so many great people to choose from.”
Winnowing a field of two or three down to one is rather easy. Dropping a dozen or so from a field just slightly larger is much harder. If a few candidates are a draw on religious fervor and faith, other factors will have to determine who the single anointed candidate from the churches will be.
The same WSJ article noted,”the [evangelical] voting bloc is hardly monolithic. While many social-issue conservatives favor brash, antiestablishment figures, others prefer more business-friendly candidates who oppose abortion and gay marriage but don’t regularly highlight those issues.” Does one go with the fire and brimstone type who is a social conservative first, last and always? Or does one opt for a business leader type who holds socially conservative views? It is not an easy question to answer. “They tried to do this four years ago, and it didn’t work,” said Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. “This constituency is too independent-minded.”
One expects little has changed since 2012. A divided evangelical vote is almost a certainty, so one expects the candidates to make the right noises about Jesus and faith, but the party will likely nominate another Rotarian like Mitt Romney.