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When will Sam Brownback end up on short lists for McCain’s VP?

It seems like everyone is putting together a list of Vice-Preside ntial candidates that John McCain could pick. Everyone. No, really, everyone. I mean it, everyone. This guy. That guy. Everyone.

So the speculation is out there. Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota? Mark Sanford from South Carolina? Tom Ridge from Pennsylvania  ? Rob Portman from Ohio? (Really, Rob Portman?! The budget director at the White House? That’s like the equivalent of someone picking the captain of the Titanic, just as the band members start plummeting to their death.)

I’d suggest a bit more stealth thinking. There’s one guy, an informal advisor to McCain’s campaign, that’s in the trenches right now. No, not Karl Rove, even though McCain has brought him on board. No, not Ken “Diarrhea of the Mouth” Mehlman, even though McCain’s brought him on, too.

But what about the guy who is in charge of the McCain campaign’s Catholic voter outreach – Sen. Sam Brownback?

Why Brownback?

  1. Brownback is conservative Christian with a capital CHRIST. But he’s also received some plaudits from liberal groups for having compassion, especially on issues like Darfur and human trafficking.   He’s like one part Bill Richardson, combined with nine parts Rick Santorum. In other words, he’s the type of Christian conservative that can spin the compassionat e yarn, while still rallying the “God’s warrior” crowd – a base that McCain is sorely thin with. Rolling Stone even dubbed Brownback “God’s Senator.”
  2. Brownback ran for President up until October 2007. After his pummeling by Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in a pre-caucus Iowa straw poll, Brownback dropped out. Who did he subsequently endorse? John McCain. And at the time, McCain’s campaign was in tatters, near bankrupt, and his support in polls was dropping faster than Britney’s.
  3. Brownback is influential within the institutiona l Catholic Church. He was even baptized in a private chapel tucked between lobbyist’s offices, and owned by Opus Dei. There’s a great deal of difference between the institutiona l Catholic Church, and the prophetic, authentic Catholic Church. That said, ain’t no megaphone like a bunch of hell-bent bishops. Take Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance at a Catholic college in Texas, which drew the rebuke on San Antonio’s Archbishop, Jose Gomez, who said that Clinton’s pro-choice views were not welcome on a Catholic campus. With Brownback on the ticket, McCain could ensure that pews across America are filled with GOP talking points.
  4. Brownback refused to sign the Contract of America in 1994…becau se he thought it was too tame. Like Ron Paul, he once said that he wanted to eliminate the departments on energy, education and commerce. That’s sure to please not only the Libertarian, money bomb crowd, but also the “drown your government in a bathtub” fanatics, like Grover Norquist.
  5. Brownback sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee back before the 2006 mid-term elections, and as such is to blame for the death nail in Harriet Miers’ nomination, and the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito. Brownback was apparently so influential in throwing Miers overboard that none other than John McCain held Brownback’ s hand up at a press conference after Miers withdrew her name, to boast, “Here’s the man who did it!”
  6. Brownback is only 51 years old…more than two decades younger than McCain, which would quiet any concerns about McCain being too senior. At 51, Brownback is barely older than Obama, and nine years younger than Hillary Clinton.

Brownback is all of this, and a bag of v-chips. In his time in the Senate, he’s shepherded the creation of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act (in the wake of the cultural phenomenon known as Janet Jackson’s nipple); he spear-headed the Silk Road Strategy Act, which sought to smother the growth of Islam in Central Asia by bribing countries and communities with sweet trade deals; and he supports the Houses of Worship Act, which would allow churches to endorse candidates in elections.

Are there problems with the thought of McCain picking Brownback? Hells yes. He’s not well known, he’s a little uber-religio us for a large swath of the country (Opus Dei? Really?), he’s not particularly charismatic  (this site says he looks like Flattop from Dick Tracy), he thinks gay people are inherently immoral but compared Sen. Larry Craig to Thomas Jefferson in the wake of Craig’s “wide stance” scandal….yea h, there are issues.

But Brownback is certainly worthy of being on the short-list. I suggest watching out for him, especially if McCain keeps being dogged by a chasm in the GOP base.


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How evangelical is West Virginia? Ask Mitt Romney.

Well, Super Tuesday is only a few hours old, but already my favorite sneak attack has happened, courtesy of the McCain campaign. According to Christianity Today.com, McCain asked his West Virginia supporters to switch their vote to Huckabee after the first round of caucusing, selling Mitt Romney out to dry.

Huckabee is almost a natural fit for West Virginia, given that 44 percent of the state supposedly identifies as evangelical.   But Romney made a significant play there in the past few days, hoping to pull together a West Virginia, Georgia, Utah and California win. (I bet that’s the first time those states were lumped together!)

Smart move by McCain. Bad luck for Romney. Huckabee, ever now the token candidate, gets a state.


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Domino’s Pizza endorses Mitt Romney

Get the door. It’s Domino’s. Or, make that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, who has just thrown his endorsement to former Massachusett s Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the 2008 Presidential election. Why Mitt Romney? In the words of Mr. Monaghan:

“As someone who values the importance of faith in one’s life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions which will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society,” said Monaghan. “I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.”

When not endorsing Presidential candidates, Monaghan is busy creating his own conservative Catholic oasis in Southwestern Florida. He’s constructing a town called Ave Maria, near Naples, which has come under fire from rights groups like the ACLU. Among the reasons why it has come under fire? Monaghan has suggested that no contraceptiv es or pornography will be sold in Ave Maria, there will be no access to abortion, and rumors abound that Monaghan wound ban realtors from selling property or condos to gays and lesbians. (Monaghan, as well as a construction company he’s partnered with, have exclusive control over commercial real estate in the town.)

It’s curious that Romney would be so proud of an endorsement from a man, like Monaghan, who wishes to limit free speech and commerce, while threatening to skirt around the Florida State Constitution in order to pursue his religious agenda. It’s also curious that Monaghan would choose a candidate, like Romney, who has a wishy-washy history with most of the social issues that fuel Monaghan’s philanthropy  (and some might say, vision for world domination).  

Perhaps the fact that Monaghan sold his share in Domino’s to Bain Capital in 1998 – the venture capital firm founded by Romney – had something to do with the endorsement.  

Yes, it is nice to see billionaires sticking together.


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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):


The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.


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Mike Huckabee’s cat and mouse game

As the cult of Mike Huckabee continues to grow, both nationally and across the state of Iowa, his cat and mouse game on religion is stepping up. Case in point, this AP article, “Huckabee Bristles at Creationism Query.”

Huckabee has sought time and again to portray himself as a Christian candidate. His advertisemen t in Iowa features big, blocky letters that pan “Christian Candidate” across the screen. He’s received the endorsement from Tim LaHaye, one of the co-authors of the “Left Behind” series (compulsory evangelical lit). His campaign Web site uses the alliterate trifecta of “Faith. Family. Freedom.” And he just recently received the endorsement of Chuck Hurley, an influential conservative activist in Iowa who was backing former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, before Brownback dropped out of the race.

Yet as The Incredible Huck is continually asked about his faith, he’s playfully getting irritated. Case in point in the news article above; Huckabee is asked whether he thinks creationism should be taught in public schools, and he responds “Why the fascination with my beliefs?”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Mr. Huckabee, the fascination with your beliefs is not only your own doing, but it’s the reason you’re up in Iowa. The more you’re identified as a Christian candidate, the more Mitt Romney looks like he believes that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri. (Oh wait. He does.)

This is why Huckabee can play the cat and mouse game. He can say, “Look, stop focusing on my beliefs,” while still getting the message out there that what he believes is on target with the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa. It’s like the reverse of a Catch-22. Whether he makes religion his focal point, or whether he chafes at religion being the focal point, Huckabee benefits.

Which begs the question: If Mitt Romney has millions and millions of dollars to pay political consultants, why the hell did none of them see this coming?

This caucus is Mike Huckabee’s to lose. And as Jet Netwal pointed out earlier on this site, that means we’re all in trouble.


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Romney gives the faith speech

Many of Mitt Romney’s advisers have been on him for months now to address his religion, but it likely took a new poll out by the Des Moines Register showing him five points behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that has Romney ready to give his John F. Kennedy speech on religion. Ala Kennedy and his Catholicism in 1960, Romney is preparing to talk about his faith - Mormonism - for the first time this Election season.

Despite the endorsements of many prominent Christian conservative s, including Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, and David Keene, Romney is still perceived as having problems resonating in socially conservative circles, especially among evangelicals . This could be one of the reasons, if not the reason, his support is slipping in places like Iowa, where the Republican caucus is dominated by social conservative s. Seems like most of these folks are jumping ship to Mike Huckabee, 30 days before the caucus. Being the nerd that I am, I watched a town hall on C-SPAN tonight with Romney, and sure enough, three of the questions from caucus-goers referenced Mike Huckabee.

And that’s the story line here. While there’s some historical relevance to Romney, one of the first Mormons to be competitive in a Presidential race, giving a speech about his faith, the talk smacks of inauthentici ty. Romney has been running for President for more than a year now, and he’s resisted talking about his faith at all costs. All of a sudden he finds himself slipping in the polls to Huckabee, and he decides to give a national talk on “Faith in America.”

Romney’s campaign is saying that the address will be a chance for Mitt to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” But the underlying reason is that Romney’s being schooled by Huckabee in Iowa, and needs to respond.


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Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani. And I’m not making that up.

They say shocking news comes in threes. First we get news this week that Rep. Ron Paul raked in more than $4 million in just ONE DAY, on an interesting fundraising campaign that coincided with Guy Fawkes Day. (This was also the Nile’s birthday, but rumor has it that this had little to do with Paul’s decision to use November 5 as a fundraising push.)

But even more shocking than that comes news this morning that Pat Robertson — yes, that Pat Robertson, who once suggested that maybe we’d be better off if a nuclear weapon hit our State Department — is endorsing Rudy Giuliani for President.

I can only imagine the sh*t-eating grin that Rudy has on his face right now, as you can bet he’ll be throwing this endorsement out there left and right to quash the talk that the religious right is uncomfortabl e with him due to his somewhat pro-choice inklings and his tacit support of some gay rights. Mitt Romney must be so pissed right now. After all, Romney fought so hard for the endorsement of uber-Christi ans Bob Jones and Paul Weyrich, that a Robertson endorsement seemed written in the stars.

More on this later, but surprising news nonetheless.   Ron Paul rakes in $4 mil in 24 hours; Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani; what shocking news comes next? Perhaps the Miami Dolphins, a sentimental Nile favorite, might win a game?

Now that would be truly shocking.


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Mitt Romney proud of Bob Jones endorsement

Bob Jones University in South Carolina once threatened to arrest its gay alumni, up until the year 2000 banned inter-racial dating on campus, and has previously called Catholicism a cult and the Pope the anti-Christ.   Rumor also has it that the university refuses (or at least refused) to honor Martin Luther King Jr., and that a former Chancellor once called King an “apostate.”

All that said, one has to wonder why Mitt Romney’s campaign was so proud last week to receive the endorsement of Bob Jones III. To quote Romney spokesman William Holley: “We’re proud to have Dr. Jones’ support and look forward to working with him to communicate Governor Romney’s message of conservative change to voters.”

Proud of an endorsement from a school with a track record of racism, sexism, heterosexism  , and vehement hatred of other religions, including Catholicism, Islam, and Romney’s own Mormon faith? (Yes, that’s what might be most odd about this — Bob Jones III is quoted as saying “As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of mormonism.” But Bob Jones’ fear of Rudy Giuliani is propelling him to make this endorsement.  )

This may be the biggest sign yet of how much Mitt Romney is willing to sell himself out to become President. Romney’s willing to kiss the fundamentali st ring of a University Chancellor who believes that the former Governor belongs to a cult, that the races were created separately by God for a reason, and that gay people should be arrested just for stepping foot on campus. Yes, for all of that Romney is “proud.”

At this rate, maybe Romney can angle for an endorsement from crazy pastor Rev. Fred Phelps, the uber-right bigot who protests the funerals of fallen soldiers because America tolerates the gays too much. I mean, come on, is it that much of a step from Bob Jones III to Rev. Fred Phelps? It hardly seems so.


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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. Newsmax.com 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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The religious right’s threat of a third-party candidacy

Here’s a poll: How many of you think all the major GOP presidential candidates are sweating buckets right now that leaders of the religious right suggested they may back a third-party Presidential candidate in 2008, due to less than enthusiastic support for the current crop of candidates?

Giuliani’s camp fought back by pumping the media with stories about how the GOP has “to have a candidate that can run in all 50 states,” and arguing that he’s the only Republican contender who can do so.

McCain’s camp arranged for him to give an interview to Beliefnet, where he slandered Islam and suggested that he’d only be comfortable with a Christian president.

Thompson’s been trying to thwart attention from his religion to his tax proposal, in hopes of convincing the religious right to vote with their pocketbooks instead of their bibles.

Huckabee issued a statement saying that a third-party backed candidate would hand Hillary Clinton the election.

And this past weekend, the Boston Globe reported that Romney is doubling his efforts to lure the support of the religious right, by asking Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (the media’s anointed leader of the religious right) to take a second look at his candidacy.

At that’s just the news from the past few days. My god, I don’t even know if the children of Elm Street were this afraid when they went to sleep!

The truth is that Huckabee is probably right. A third-party candidate would handicap the race for Democrats, splintering the coalition of the willing comprised of social conservative s and fiscal conservative s. All of the leading GOP candidates know this, and my guess is that all of them have the head of James Dobson on a dartboard in their war rooms. Imagine having to kiss Dobson’s ass just so he doesn’t pull behind a rogue candidacy?

It’s kind of like the last season of The West Wing playing out in real time. Remember how Alan Alda’s character had to placate the religious right?

Though Tuesday’s Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan is meant to focus on economic issues, I’ll be curious how the candidates work in some religious right talking points to kabash the growing story line that the moral majority is magnificentl y dissatisfied with this bunch. Stay tuned.

(Note: For those who may be interested, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Dearborn, MI. It’s where I tried out for Jeopardy back in 2005. I didn’t make it, but I can hardly hold that against Dearborn. I blame it on Jeopardy’s penchant for asking too many damn opera questions.)


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