This is a shocker to me. Apparently tomorrow the National Right to Life Committee will endorse Fred Thompson. I have confirmation from a member of the committee. And, apparently, they are moving quickly to try to stop Rudy Giuliani.
There are several frames to look at this through:
- What this means for the pro-life movement in the US.
- The politics of the conservative movement.
- The mechanics of implementing the endorsement
Last week, Fred Thompson appeared to have messed up pretty-badly with the pro-life movement. He came out in opposition to the Human Life Amendment. He didn’t score any of the big social conservative/religious right endorsements last week. But tomorrow, he gets NRLC. My understanding is that the internal debate revolved around (1) stopping Rudy and (2) whether Mike Huckabee was an acceptable endorsement either together or separately. My understanding is, additionally, that John McCain and Mitt Romney were deemed not acceptable because of their positions on stem cell research. But it is news in its own right that an anti-HLA candidate is NRLC material.
There are several very important things to realize about a NRLC endorsement: First, it comes with juice. They have money. They have bodies. They do mail. They do phones. They do election-day volunteers. They will electioneer, and they will electioneer to win. If they are endorsing Fred Thompson, it means that they actually intend him to win the nomination.
To win, they have a problem. Fred is in 3rd or 4th or 5th in Iowa. He is in single-digits in New Hampshire. NRLC is going to have to rip through a whole bunch of people above him. And, unlike most conservative, groups, they don’t just attack on their issue. In 2000, they attacked McCain over campaign finance, even though he was, arguably, more pro-life than George Bush.
It has been conventional wisdom for a while that Romney and Thompson are fighting over the same voters. You can expect the mailboxes and phones of those voters to light up with detailed explanations of why Mitt Romney is not the right man to be president, or at least our nominee. From a very credible outside group. I have long asked who is actually going to attack Romney. We have our answer. In the end, this will move numbers.
On a deeper level, though, one wonders if this is a split in the conservative movement. With so many people going so many different ways, a shatter seems inevitable. There are a number of endorsements left, but you almost wonder if this is a direct challenge to James Dobson. Does Dobson dare to come out now, challenging NRLC and setting up a deep split? After all, Dobson actually can move votes and money, as can NRLC. But if the ultimate goal is to stop Rudy, then perhaps they need, at least, implicit agreement.
The other question is what happens if Romney really fights for this turf. Can he undermine the interest groups? Can he go back to his pragmatic self after his strange rightward lurch.
How this plays out will be interesting.