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Peaking inside the religious right’s playbook?

Today marks the beginning of a three-day meeting in Washington labeled the Values Voter Summit, which will likely bring scores of conservative activists and leaders to the Hilton Washington Hotel (where the event is taking place…tip your cleaning people, please). More importantly, perhaps, is that about 50 of the nation’s leading conservative religious folk will gather again to follow up on a September meeting in Salt Lake City where the idea of a third-party presidential candidate supported by the religious right first picked up steam.

All this talk about a third party candidate from the religious right has me thinking: Who do they fear more, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani? I’d be curious to hear what people think. But for now, let’s look at this article from Paul Weyrich, the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, who lays out his high-school- football-coa ch-chalkboar d-drawing for how a third party candidate can be successful on the right.

Step 1: Major figures from the existing Republican party would publicly need to defect. This is not like when Alec Baldwin said he’d move to Canada after the 2002 elections, or when I quit the Cub Scouts in 5th grade because I didn’t like the uniforms. As Weyrich spells it out, this would include major leaders from the GOP holding a press conference and declaring that the “pro-life” party has lost its way. (In Weyrich’s world, this movement starts with the two Senators from Oklahoma, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Gov. Mitt Romney going AWOL. Now, I have a fondness for Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the Senators from Oklahoma, because he does crossword puzzles during Senate confirmation hearings. But the other three dudes? Come on…why not start a third party with three Ritz crackers? They contain about as much excitement.)

Step 2: A third party effort would require a multi-millio naire prepared to spend his own money for a Presidential campaign. Let’s bold the obvious there — clearly Weyrich thinks only men have millions of dollars. But really, where oh where will the religious right find a multi-millio naire candidate with money bleeding out of his ass, AND who hasn’t been indicted yet on any fraudulent charges….if only there was a wealthy former governor of Massachusett s running for President….

Step 3: A third party would require the defection of a major media outlet. does not count; no, this major media outlet has to have more than 45 people reading or watching it. Who does Weyrich suggest? Fox News Channel and/or the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, not very original.

In short, Weyrich’s point is pretty simple: third party candidates need a miracle to win. But the best thing about the religious right is that, well, they tend to believe in miracles. That, coupled with the fact that I suspect the religious right would rather see a Hillary Clinton presidency (or a Barack Obama presidency, John Edwards presidency, etc.) than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, makes a third-party possibility pretty real. Why?

That answer is easy, and it doesn’t require a game plan from Paul Weyrich. If the religious right can prevent Giuliani from winning (even if, in the short term, they lose), they can assert what they’ve been saying since 1980: that Republicans can’t win without them. Nothing will give them more influence in future elections than that very sentiment. And, for them, that may be worth five Hillary Clintons.

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