With Santorum Out, Will Evangelicals Back Romney?

Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum did very well with evangelical Christian voters in the primary season. Now that he's out of the race, will his conservative supporters embrace Mitt Romney? Robert Siegel talks with Richard Land, director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Throughout the Republican primary season, Rick Santorum, who was running hard on social issues including abortion, did very well with evangelical Christian voters. And now that he's out of the race, there's a question of how enthusiastically those voters will embrace Mitt Romney.

Well, joining us to talk about that is Dr. Richard Land. He's director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thanks for joining us once again.

RICHARD LAND: Happy to be with you.

SIEGEL: Is Governor Romney a Republican whom social conservatives, in particular evangelical Christians, can learn to love?

LAND: Yes, I think that people have to understand that being for Rick Santorum does not necessarily mean you're anti-Romney. First of all, about 40 percent of evangelicals were voting for him - or even more than that in the recent primaries - against Rick Santorum.

And against Barack Obama, it will not be very difficult at all for Mister Romney to garner the support of both the evangelicals, unless he were to do something catastrophic, like pick a pro-choice running mate, which I don't think he's going to do.

SIEGEL: Well, let's talk about running mates. Given the questions that have been raised about Governor Romney's consistency, his change of position on some issues dear to evangelical Christian voters, will he need a running mate who can reassure those voters as opposed to a running mate who sort of reaches out to moderates and signals a move toward the center, or toward more libertarian Republicans?

LAND: Well, I think the first proposed appointment in a proposed Romney administration is who he picks for vice president. And so, it's got to be someone who is a social conservative and who's pro-life. Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, the governor of Virginia, the governor of New Jersey.

SIEGEL: Mike Huckabee, that would be a ticket of somebody who has been a bishop in the Mormon Church and someone who's been a preacher in the Baptist Church.

LAND: Only in America.

SIEGEL: Only in America. You would find that an appealing ticket?

LAND: I do. I would. I don't endorse candidates but I would. I think most social conservatives would find it a very appealing ticket.

SIEGEL: You remarked in a blog back in January - on the preference of evangelical leaders for the Catholic, Rick Santorum. And you wrote this: The Catholic issue is pretty much irrelevant among social conservatives these days.

Is the Mormon issue equally irrelevant among social conservatives these days?

LAND: As a political issue, I think it is, yes. There is a fundamental difference however. And that is that most evangelicals - most conservative evangelicals - believe that Catholics are Christian brethren with whom we have doctrinal disagreements. They believe that Mormonism is another religion. But they also don't think that should disqualify Mitt Romney from running for president or being president.

SIEGEL: The conventional wisdom this year is that President Obama is vulnerable, or to the extent that he's vulnerable, it's over the economy, over unemployment, the individual mandate in the health care law. Is that an agenda that can inspire evangelicals, if Mitt Romney sticks to the economy between now and November?

LAND: Sure but he's not going to do that. I mean, he's obviously campaigned against Obamacare and has said he would grant a waiver to all 50 states, if necessary. And I don't think I can adequately describe to you the loathing that social conservatives have for Obamacare. They want it buried in a lead coffin, lined with garlic with a stake through its heart.

SIEGEL: Rick Santorum, famously or notoriously depending on what you think, said that John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech in which he declared an absolute separation between church and state, nauseated him.

Do you share that...

LAND: No, I think he's totally wrong. I think Senator Kennedy - then-Senator Kennedy threaded the needle about as well as it can be threaded. He said, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president. And I'll make my decisions on what I think is best for the country based on my conscience. And no external authority, i.e. the Vatican, will tell me what to do. But I'm not going to deny my faith in order to be - to win this office and I shouldn't be asked to. And he's absolutely right.

SIEGEL: Dr. Land, thank you very much for talking with us.

LAND: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: Richard land is the director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He spoke to us from Nashville.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.