Christian Right Backs Giuliani on GOP Ticket

The Rev. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for president this week, putting aside all differences about gay rights, gun control, and abortion rights. John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, talks with NPR's Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Reverend Pat Robertson endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for president this week, putting aside all differences about gay rights, gun control, and abortion rights. Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the Moral Majority, and Bob Jones III endorsed Mitt Romney, all religious differences aside. Religious conservative leaders are choosing up sides, and they're not always on the same one.

We're joined now by John Green, senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a professor of political science at the University of Akron. He joins us from member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. Professor Green, thanks very much for being with us.

Dr. JOHN GREEN (Professor, Political Science, University of Akron; Senior Fellow, Pew Forum in Religion and Public Life): Oh, it's great to be with you.

SIMON: And how do you read these separate endorsements about these three prominent people?

Dr. GREEN: Well, if nothing else, it reveals the kinds of divisions that exist in the Christian right. They have something against all of the candidates. They see problems in - of one kind or another, and so they're beginning to choose up sides. And what that means is, unlike some past elections, the Christian conservatives are not going to be united behind one candidate.

SIMON: A lot of people noticed this week that in making his endorsement of Mayor Giuliani, he did not mention some of the social conservative issues that are often important to religious voters. And for that matter, Mayor Giuliani, in accepting his endorsement, didn't mention anything about what were widely denounced comments the Reverend Pat Robertson made on September 11th, that this was somehow God's wrath on New York.

Dr. GREEN: You know, it may very well be that there's a strong dose of pragmatism at work here on the part of both of these individuals. But it also could be that the agenda has changed a little bit, that perhaps Pat Robertson and other Christian conservatives are not quite as focused on things like abortion and same-sex marriage, and maybe even more interested in foreign policy questions like the war on terrorism.

SIMON: Let me ask about Bob Jones III's support for Mitt Romney. There have been some concern expressed from the first that Mr. Romney's own religious background might somehow make him difficult to sell to religious conservative voters. Does something like this endorsement help?

Dr. GREEN: I think it probably does help Governor Romney with the whole question of whether evangelicals and other conservative Christians would support a Mormon candidate. In that regard, the Bob Jones endorsement may be the most noteworthy of all of the endorsements that you mentioned. Bob Jones is a card-carrying fundamentalist and comes from a group that has particular theological problems with Mormons. So the fact that he would set that aside to support a candidate for political reasons may be quite significant.

SIMON: Senator Sam Brownback who has dropped out of the presidential race but is an outspoken religious conservative who enjoys a great deal of respect for many voters has endorsed Senator John McCain in recent days. And this raises the question as to where Senator McCain stands with this group of voters.

Dr. GREEN: If we go back the 2000 presidential campaign when John McCain was running against then Governor George Bush of Texas, there were some — quite a bit of tension between John McCain and the leaders of the religious right. In fact, as I'm sure many people remember, John McCain went out of his way to criticize Pat Robertson by name and Jerry Falwell and some of the other prominent leaders.

But since then, he's tried very hard to mend fences. For instance, he spoke at Jerry Falwell's university - Liberty University - back before Falwell passed away this year. But many of them still feel that Senator McCain has been very hostile to them, has not just disagreed on certain issues, but had disagreed with them on political tactics and on political style. And those kinds of divisions are often hard to overcome.

SIMON: Now, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has won the endorsement from the Baptist leader Rick Scarborough.

Dr. GREEN: You know, Governor Huckabee is a really interesting figure. Not only has some real credentials - having been governor of a state that has produced presidents in the past - but were a former Baptist minister. And on the social issues, would appear to line up where Christian conservatives would like a candidate to be. And yet, until recently, he hasn't gotten very much support.

And this reveals something about Christian conservatives this year. They're not just concerned about issues - as important as those are - but they're also concerned about viability. And to many Christian conservative leaders, Governor Huckabee is yet to prove that he's viable.

I've heard from a number of Christian activists at the local level that they really like Governor Huckabee, and if they can become convinced that he could compete, they might flock to his banner. So this is a really interesting part of this process - viability as well as issues.

SIMON: John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Center on Religion and Public Life, teaches political science at the University of Akron. Thanks very much.

Dr. GREEN: You're welcome.

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