Romney, falling in IA polls, gives “Mormon Speech”

For months and months and months, there has been speculation that Mitt Romney would give a "Mormon Speech." There have been several reports that this has been an issue inside the usually disciplined Romney campaign. Well. He’s giving it on Thursday. Earlier Romney told the AP:

"I have some folks who think I should do it soon, some say later, some say never, some say right away," Romney said. "I’ll make the decision. But there’s no particular urgency because I’m making progress in the states where I’m campaigning."

Well. There’s urgency now. Romney is now clearly in 2nd in Iowa. There is now clear evidence that Romney’s religion is hurting him in Iowa, something that we predicted early on based on the strange makeup of the caucus electorate.

This is probably the clearest evidence yet that the Romney campaign understands how precarious its position is in IA. It will not be enough to simply attack Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Romney will have to find a way to build trust over their barrier of his religion. This is probably his last chance, and it is a … hail mary.

NRLC goes with Fred Thompson

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.

Huckabee consolidates the religious right

This morning on Tucker, Charmaine Yoest said, approximately:

People are talking about endorsements from the Christian movement. and if they are not reporting at all that Don Wildeman, the founder of the American Family Association, a heavyweight on the Christian right that he came out this week for Huckabee. and people are not talking about that.

Well. Let me talk about it and put it in some context. Wildeman is also the founder and leader of the Arlington Group. A phenomenal get. But not the only one.

Friday, a bunch of Southern Baptist leaders endorsed Mike Huckabee. Now, Huckabee is a Southern Baptist pastor, so this might not seem surprising, but Huckabee is on the moderate side of the SBC world. As one friend put it, "this is the SBC version of Brad Smith endorsing John McCain." This is about people who have historical grievances with Huckabee lining up behind him.

And who is this Yoest person praising Huckabee and telling people about his great get? She is the communications director for the Family Research Council, the advocacy arm of the James Dobson media empire.

Oh yeah. And the American Spectator and Jonathan Martin are reporting that Dobson is going to endorse Huckabee. And one of his communications underlings is praising Huckabee. And independent sources at FRC confirmed the story to me, but say that the Mitt Romney supporters at FRC are fighting it. Indeed, Paul Weyrich and some others are denying it.

That sounds like a consolidation of the religious right in a way that could be worth a good 5-10% in places like Iowa and South Carolina. And in Iowa, Huckabee is in 2nd, and this kind of thing could include votes coming out of Romney’s hide.  In South Carolina, it is less clear, but it seems likely that it would come out of the hides of both Romney and Fred Thompson.

Earlier on, I said that it seemed that the religious right had dated Mitt Romney, but decided to marry Fred Thompson. It appears that I spoke to soon. It seems that Fred might have jilted them at the altar, and they found a new person.

Christian right endorsements flow

It has been a pretty remarkable two days in terms of endorsements:

Where is the Fred Thompson endorsement?

McCain’s clever ad

John McCain’s new ad that is running in New Hampshire is getting lots of praise. My friends over at Granite Grok said:

Using a clip from Sunday’s Fox News Channel Republican debate, the Arizona Senator makes the case against Hillary Clinton bigtime. This thirty second clip sums up her big-spending habits in a fashion that anybody can understand and grasp– in a such a way that can’t be denied. The added inclusion of McCain’s personal history of being in captivity as a POW makes it that much more powerful.

McCain sure did hit a trifecta. Hillary Clinton, big-spending, and … the 60s. Earlier in the campaign season, Michael Barone talked about the end of boomer conflict and had this to say specifically about McCain:

John McCain (born in 1936) is a heroic member of a different generation, one whose leading politicians typically served in the military (Edward Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis).

Barone (who grew up in the same town and in the same social circles as Mitt Romney. All the evidence is that this familiarity has not endeared Barone to Romney) thought this about Romney:

Only Mitt Romney (born in 1947) is clearly a boomer — one who has lived his life and has taken positions (albeit some of them recently) that clearly identify him as part of the conservative half of his generation.

Is there something more subtle going on here? Is John McCain signaling sympathy and awareness of the cultural DNA of the culture wars? Is this a way to get past the seeming divide between McCain and social conservatives? Consider this from Barone:

All of which suggests that the Republicans are better positioned than the Democrats to move beyond the boomer civil war. But some things may keep us there. Attitudes on Iraq are reminiscent of those on Vietnam, the war that split the baby boom generation in two. Abortion, though overemphasized by a press full of aging boomers, is still a proxy for the cultural issues that divide their generation.

He’s got the position. The card is going to be played against him. Why not play it now and see where it takes you?

What coulda been

Justin Hart of Race42008 wrote a post that is 95% correct. He said:

You don’t try to win straw polls as proof of your national success among a group of voters. You don’t try to win straw polls as proof of momentum. You don’t try to win straw polls as solid proof of your chances at victory.

You DO try to win straw polls to gain free press to accomplish all three of the above. In other words: straw polls are a means to an end and not the end itself.

One of the lessons that I learned early on in my political career, was that the vote was the 2nd most interesting thing that happens at a political event like a convention. There is always horse-trading before, but there is also horse-trading afterwards. People frame, spin, and negotiate what happened. And that is the most interesting thing. I speculated:

When the social conservative leaders meet tomorrow for their post-mortem, they will not be able to push people into supporting Romney.

At this point, I think that people like Tony Perkins want to get behind Mitt Romney. I have no doubt in my mind. He tried and tried and tried to spin the straw poll results to be more positive for Romney. But they don’t know if they can get away with it. Why? Look what is happening to Bob Jones:

The Bob Jones University family has never followed Bob Jones III in lockstep fashion, school officials will tell you.

But Jones’ surprise endorsement of Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primary has sparked a sharp division of opinion in this stronghold of Christian fundamentalism.

Within an hour of the story hitting the Internet on Greenville-Online.com last Tuesday, e-mails and chat began to come in from BJU people who felt "Dr. Bob" had abandoned his religious principles in the name of political pragmatism by supporting a Mormon.

Is this bigotry? Sure. Is it real? That too. Is it excusable? Nope, but it is still real. (I remember my grandpa, a life-long pastor in small, rural, evangelical churches, telling me, in his 70s, that he was surprised to find out recently that Catholics could be — not "are", but "could be" — Christians) I am still convinced that some of the language that Mike Huckabee used on Saturday was pointed directly at this problem. And he hit it dead on.

Erick, over at Redstate, concurs with my instinct that this is what was going to happen:

Second, I’m told that people in the room tabulating the votes were stunned by Huckabee’s showing. Stunned, for some of them, is an understatement. It seems clear to me that this was an opportunity for the leaders of the social conservative movement to sigh, shrug, and embrace Romney. They intended to. …

Now, you can call me partisan or biased or whatever you want, but all I’m doing here is reporting. The leaders of the social conservative movement who were present, the Arlington Group members you hear so much about, were ready and willing to get on board Romney’s campaign on Saturday morning. Then Huckabee spoke. Then the straw vote was tabulated. Then they realized that were they to do so, it would put them completely out of step with their members.

(Incidentally, you should read the rest of Erick’s post. It is about the shake up to the party that a Mike Huckabee nomination would create. I don’t think I really disagree)

The upshot is that Mitt Romney went into the weekend and got a great success. The headlines were phenomenal for him, although the stories were more mixed. But he wanted more. And the interest group leaders were prepared to deliver. But Huckabee’s stellar performance illustrated the disconnect between the interest group leaders and the members.

And that disconnect left a continued split in the social conservative groups. And a slightly less bumpy road for Rudy Guiliani.

FRC Wrap-up

After everything is done, here are my thoughts:

  1. Fred Thompson did not have a good weekend. His speech was ok, but in contrast to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, it wasn’t so impressive. Lots of people were disappointed in hindsight.
  2. Mike Huckabee was a success in the room. He clearly won the straw poll, etc. He clearly won the speech. And he clearly won the day.
  3. Rudy Giuliani did much better than people expected. He probably didn’t win any primary votes, but he did a lot of work to solidify him in a general.

The news tomorrow is going to be that social conservatives are split. When the social conservative leaders meet tomorrow for their post-mortem, they will not be able to push people into supporting Romney.

The split continues. And Rudy is less unacceptable than people thought.

FRC Straw Poll results

Total (fundraising) Offline (real)
Candidate Votes Candidate Votes
 Romney  1595  Huckabee 488
 Huckabee  1565  Romney 99
 Paul  865  Thompson 77
 Thompson  564  Tancredo 65

They made on and offline versions

First, values:

  1. Abortion
  2. Marriage
  3. Tax cuts
  4. Family tax issues

Sounds like Republicans.

FRC had indicated that they would provide online and offline results. It will be interesting to see the disaggregated numbers. I wonder why they didn’t give those to us.

UPDATE: Turns out that Mike Huckabee blew Romney out in the room. Romney’s astroturf won the online world, but not the real world.

Huckabee at FRC

Mike Huckabee has a great crowd here. Certainly a much stronger reception at the beginning than either Romney or Giuliani. Way bigger.

Starts with jokes about the baby boomers collecting social security. "If you that’s bad economic news, just wait until you hear about all the old graying hippies getting free drugs."

The meat of this is about what is non-negotiable to the room. "What is non-negotiable when we got to vote." … And he is getting some "Amen"s.

  • The value of freedom
  • The value of family
  • The value of faith

His immigration talk gets a standing ovation… Strange. "No to amnesty, and no to sanctuary cities. … I blame our government for sitting on his hands." Of course, he doesn’t really believe this. I am disappointed that Christians get so excited about this issue.

There is way more energy in this room than there was for anyone else I’ve seen.

Big applause lines:

  • Companies moving to China.
  • "Stop the muzzling of ministers who are told they can’t say things by the IRS." (the room explodes)
  • He has a big applause line about international law.
  • "we shouldn’t move God’s standards to meet the cultural norms, but move the cultural norms to meet God’s standards."

But then, he gets less applause on some real red meat:

  • Tired of hearing about "people not being willing to rewrite the constitution, but they are willing to rewrite the word of God." 
  • he went on to abortion. And, again, people were enthusiastic, but it was different.

I am hearing more applause on the "faith under siege" narrative than the issues. If that is the case, Mitt Romney is in profound trouble.

And then he goes full bore into the other candidates:

  • "It is important that people sing from the hearts and don’t merely lip-sync. It is important that people speak the language of Zion, not merely as a second language." (is this anti-Romney?)
  • "Never sacrifice our principles for anyone’s politics. Not now. Not ever." (Not so much applause for that)
  • "Most of you grew up like me, tutored in Sunday school. I haven’t outgrown that. Not any of it. Better to be with David than Goliath… Better to be Elijah … than it was to be 800 prophets of Baal…" (is this Baal language anti-Romney?)
  • "There was never an end to the supply of what God could do, if the people have faith."
  • "I don’t want ever for us let expediency or electability replace our values." … And the crowd goes wild…
  • "I sign here to have a little seat at the table and tossed the King’s crumbs every once in a while."
  • "It is time for those of us who call ourselves values voters to pledge our lives, our family, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to that which is true, right, and eternal."

And the crowd goes wild again.

Does this stuff work? It might work here. Does it win the straw poll? Does he have the organization?

Rudy at FRC

The entrance had more standing, but less cheers than Mitt Romney. But Romney had a lot of astroturf, as Phil Klein pointed out, so it is hard to tell.

Rudy starts with an attack on Washington.

Unlike Romney’s speech, there was more of a narrative structure. He wanted the people in the room to know who he was. The policies that he talked about followed from that structure.

So he talks about what his religion means to him:

Christians and Christianity is all about inclusiveness,  It is built around the most profound act of love in history. .. Spreading a message of love and hope and faith… Administer to sick and the needy. It is the love that the first Christians displayed that first brought thousands and then millions.

And:

The first day that I entered a class in which a prayer was not said at the beginning of class was my first day at NYU Law School. I was so confused, I crossed myself. Then I realized that everyone was looking at me.

Then he goes into his framing that he starts and ends with:

  • A more civil society
  • Restoring the social contract.
  • A culture of personal responsibility. probably shouldn’t have used the language "culture of " because it makes an implicit contrast.

Here are some applause lines. He had a lot of these:

  • "The one thing that you can count on with me is that I will be honest with you."
  • "My belief in God and my reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am."
  • "Isn’t it better that I tell you what I believe rather than change all my positions." (A big applause line)
  • "Never let anyone tell you that your faith should not be part of your political values."
  • "It shouldn’t be so difficult to raise your children consistent with the values you hold dear. … protecting the innocence of children."
  • "We have the same right of free speech." "Never be required to give our taxpayer money to desecrate religion" (part of a big riff on pornography and the Mary-in-elephant-dung story.
  • "Freedom of religion is not freedom from religion."
  • "I don’t believe in inevitable decline."
  • "The ideal: It takes a family, not a village to raise a child."
  • "A country without abortion. Achieved by changing the minds of people."
  • Religion is about love, inclusion and forgiveness. It is about salvation. … If we expect perfection from our political leaders, we will be disappointed. (I heard "amens")
  • Something about internet sex predators. (big applause, but I missed the exact quote)
  • "Parents understand their children better than government and bureaucrats do."
  • "fight those who try to drive traditional expressions of religion out of our public life."

The other thing that is worth pointing out is that he insisted on honesty. He made some real serious attacks on Romney:

  • Ronald Reagan didn’t figure out what he was going to do by putting his finger in the air and figuring out where the winds are blowing.
  • If I take a poll and repeat it. … then I am a follower. I may be a good actor if I do it well, but I am a follower.

He has a riff on separation. I am not sure why he said that. Quotes George Will on most successful conservative governance.

He also talks a long time about how he would move the ball on abortion. This was really key. And it got strong responses.

  • Veto any reductions of the Hyde amendment.
  • Support any reasonable suggestion that reduces the number of abortions. Mentions parental notification and PBA ban.
  • Make the 10k adoption tax credit permanent.
  • Mentions faith-based initiatives.
  • Judges.

Insterestingly, he said, "We serve God best by serving others." That gets less applause than his abortion lines. That tells me something about the people here. But in the end, the people here are only part of his audience. The audience is the moderate evangelicals who aren’t here, but who are voting. That’s why he brought up the atmospheric issues and Darfur.

Rudy closes with:

"You have nothing to fear from me." Some make me out to be an activist for liberal causes. If you believe that, just check any New York Times editorial while I was mayor.

I think that a bunch of people in the room really believed that. His closing applause was much, much stronger than the opening. A lot of the people sitting when he came in were standing. That’s a difference. He may not win the crowd, but he doesn’t need to. He needs to neutralize it.

I think he did that. Rudy couldn’t hit a home run, but he could hit a double. And he did.