The Third Party Publicity Stunt

Where have we heard this threat before?

Yesterday, [Family Research Council President Tony] Perkins and a dozen other social conservative leaders warned RNC committee members to affirm their opposition to same-sex marriage at the annual spring meeting, happing now in California, or face the consequences. “We respectfully warn GOP Leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support,” read their letter, obtained by NBC News.

Dateline, February 12, 1998:

At a closed-door convention of conservative leaders in Arizona last week, James Dobson, who heads the multimedia ministry Focus on the Family, warned that if the Republican Congress continued to ”betray” conservative evangelical voters, he would abandon the Republican Party and ”do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible.”

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Dr. Dobson excoriated a long list of Republican leaders who, he asserted, ”when they moved into power, moved to immediately insult” conservative Christian supporters. His list included Speaker Newt Gingrich, for inviting Mrs. Whitman to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address, and even conservative stalwarts like Republican Senators John Ashcroft of Missouri, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who Dr. Dobson said had failed to speak out against homosexuality and financing of sex education in schools.

Rick Santorum failed to speak out against homosexuality! Well, he fixed that, didn’t he?

Dateline September 30, 2007:

Alarmed at the chance that the Republican party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop him.

The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie and dozens of other politically-oriented conservative Christians, participants said. Almost everyone present expressed support for a written resolution that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third party candidate.”

They’re not really going to form a third party or support a third-party candidate; this is just a way of reiterating the outsized role they enjoy in the GOP’s base. You could say the GOP faces an existential crisis over marriage equality: should they continue to alienate the growing numbers of (particularly younger) voters in favor of marriage equality or should they continue to make nice with the anti-equality ideologues? 

The reality is the anti-equality contingent has nowhere to go that gives it any sort of leverage. By the same token, the GOP needs them like cake batter needs flour. So they’ll probably force the GOP to at least frame the issue around states’ rights and religious freedom. If the party won’t toe the line on marriage, “religious freedom,” along with abortion, will become morph into the issue over which the Christian right demands purity from the GOP.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email