Tampa—The Republican National Convention has presented the Romney campaign with a conundrum: how to placate the religious right without alienating independents. The compromise has been giving social conservatives a handful of speeches that are in prime time for the delegates and Fox News viewers, but safely out of the 10 pm EST hour for the broadcast networks. On Tuesday night, the token social conservative slot was given to Rick Santorum. On Wednesday, it was Mike Huckabee.
But Christianists are experts at outside organizing. They played nicely with the Romney campaign in public, but they were sure to demand their pound of flesh. For weeks leading up to the RNC, the Family Research Council (FRC) blasted emails to their members informing them of the high stakes in the platform negotiations. Back in June they sent an e-mail titled “Protecting Life & Marriage—from the Republicans,” in which they asked for donations to send a larger lobbying team to the Platform Committee meetings last week. They warned that many leading Republicans were going wobbly on gay marriage. More recently, though, FRC President Tony Perkins breathed a sigh of relief over the fact that allies such as Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) were overseeing the process. And, sure enough, the platform has planks opposing marriage equality and abortion rights.
Once the actual festivities started, social conservatives kept the pressure on. On Tuesday, the FRC honored Santorum, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) for their leadership in opposing abortion rights. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that they chose to recognize three of Romney’s primary opponents, one of whom left the Senate six years ago. One interpretation would be that FRC is thanking them for pushing social issues into the campaign. Another interpretation, not mutually exclusive, is that they are implicitly drawing a contrast with Romney.
Santorum is trying to set himself up as the leader of the middle-class social conservative wing of the GOP, in opposition to Romney’s country club set. He has organized a group, called Patriot Voices, that is focused on mobilizing his supporters and like-minded voters in the Rust Belt swing states where Santorum gave Romney a tight race in the primaries.
On Wednesday afternoon Patriot Voices held a rally for a few hundred supporters. Leaders of the major social conservative organizations all came to speak and show their support. It was apparent that if Romney loses and Santorum runs again in 2016, he would receive organized social conservative support from the get-go.
At Santorum’s event, away from the official RNC podium, the religious right let loose. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, hosted. Bauer referenced the ludicrous, Islamophobic wingnut theory that Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood operative. Bauer’s theme was getting America to “come back” to its principles such as, “when American foreign policy promoted American values and interests, instead of the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.” And, of course, Bauer invoked, “When the President knew the capital of Israel was Jerusalem.” Bauer went beyond merely opposing gay marriage to also inveigh against gay adoption. “It’s not bigotry to believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and it’s not discrimination to know a child needs a mother and a father.”