A group of prominent social conservatives say that if Rudolph Giuliani is the Republican Party's presidential nominee, they will consider bolting the party and fielding a third-party candidate.
The former mayor of New York City, Giuliani has liberal views on a number of social issues, including abortion. He has continued to lead the Republican presidential field in national polls, and he even receives a plurality of support from white evangelical Protestants.
This weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, a group of leading social conservatives — all members of an organization called the Council for National Policy, agreed on a resolution: If the Republican Party nominates a "pro-abortion" candidate, the group will consider running a third-party candidate.
Growing Frustration Among Conservatives
Veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie, author of a book called Conservatives Betrayed, was one of the participants.
"Quite frankly, it's beyond just abortion," Viguerie says, though he acknowledges that it is "perhaps the most visible issue that unites us" in concern over the candidates seeking the Republication presidential nomination. "There's a general feeling among social conservatives, as well as economic conservatives, that they have been betrayed by the Republican Party," he says.
Social conservatives aren't thrilled with any of the current front-runners for the Republican nomination. But it is Giuliani who is causing the most angst.
Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer, who joined the Salt Lake City meeting by phone, says he understands the frustration, but worries that public threats about a third-party candidate could backfire.
"Nobody has actually voted in a Republican primary yet. And so I think that it's just a time for reflection and long-term strategy, rather than this kind of approach," Bauer says. "And it's not clear to me how by blowing up the Republican Party and guaranteeing the election of Hillary Clinton – it's not clear to me how that ends up saving unborn children, since I know, without a shadow of a doubt, the kind of judges President Clinton would put on the Supreme Court."
The 'Hillary' Factor
The Giuliani campaign is counting on this type of logic. The campaign points to polls that show Giuliani running better than any other Republican candidate against Hillary Clinton, whom many Republicans presume will be the Democratic nominee.
Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) is the Giuliani campaign's national co-chairman. He says he doesn't believe conservatives will bolt.
"I believe, at the end of the day, that these conservatives will recognize that, if it's the priority to ensure that we don't see Hillary Clinton become president of the United States, then Rudy Giuliani is the man best equipped to win," Dreier says.
But Viguerie says conservatives' choices should not be driven by "fear of Hillary."
"All my political life, liberal Republicans have tried to scare conservatives into supporting liberal Republican candidates, and it has never, ever worked," Viguerie says. "It didn't work in 1948 with Dewey, Nixon in 1960, Ford in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and it won't work this time."
In all those elections, he says, conservatives stayed home.
Stopping Giuliani's Momentum
That's the message this group of conservatives is trying to send, says Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although he's a member of the Council for National Policy, Land was not at the meeting this weekend.
"A significant portion of our constituencies are not going to vote for Rudy Giuliani, and it's best that you know that now," Land says. "Because if you're counting on them coming back and voting for Giuliani as the lesser of two evils, a lot of them aren't going to do it."
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the group was trying to stop Giuliani's momentum now, while they still can.
"What they're doing is not so much mounting the threat of a real candidacy against Rudy," Keene says. "They're trying to reach their grassroots followers, saying, 'Look at this guy, he's not somebody that we want.' And I think that's really the message that they're sending."
Many analysts and many conservatives had assumed that, as rank-and-file Republicans learned about Giuliani's liberal views, his support would evaporate. But it hasn't. And once the whirlwind of primaries starts, these conservatives fear, it may be too late to stop him.