Dr. James Dobson is the founder of the largest, most influential, Evangelical organization in America, Focus on the Family. His radio show reaches two million listeners every day, and he’s easily the most important Evangelical leader in the country.
As a result, Dobson’s political pronouncements carry a lot of weight among Christian voters. But these comments, covering all of the GOP presidential candidates, threaten to divide and marginalize Christians in the upcoming election.
You see, Dobson has painted himself, and those who follow him, into a corner.
Proof of that was the story reported yesterday in the New York Times. At a meeting last weekend of conservative leaders in Salt Lake City, the discussion centered around the proposal for a third party response to the possible nomination of Rudy Giuliani.
I have verified independently the discussions that took place among Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other religious and pro-life leaders. The idea of a third-party was not treated as a hypothetical, but an imminent possibility.
This Dobson-led threat of a third party effort was the predictable outcome of his public statements since October 2006.
The dilemma for Dobson is simple: He has disavowed every GOP hopeful except Newt Gingrich. With Gingrich now saying he will not run, there’s no one left Dobson can support:
October 2, 2006: As a guest on the Laura Ingraham radio show, Dobson says of Mitt Romney, “I don’t believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon, but that remains to be seen, I guess.”January 11, 2007: As a guest on the Jerry Johnson Live radio program, Dobson says, “Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances.”March 9: Newt Gingrich appears on Dobson’s radio show to deliver the mea culpa for his extra-marital affair while pursuing Clinton’s impeachment in 1994. “There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards,” says Gingrich.March 23: An article initiated by Dobson is published in U.S. News and World Report. Dobson describes Fred Thompson: “Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for. . . [But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”May 17: Dobson writes, “Rudy’s Not the One” for WorldNetDaily. “I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision,” adding if the choice is between Giuliani and Clinton or Obama, he might not vote at all.September 20: The Associated Press reports a private e-mail circulated by Dobson again criticizing Fred Thompson, saying, “He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent ‘want to.’ And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”
The only satisfactory candidate for Dobson evidently is Gingrich, who announced on Saturday he would not be a candidate. So where do Dobson and his followers go? And will they respond to a third party call?
What happens to the religious conservatives already committed — rather evenly — among the four leading candidates? Would they follow Dobson, Perkins, and other movement leaders out of the GOP?
Dobson gave Newt Gingrich a second chance by inviting him on his radio show to offer a public repentance. Perhaps he will offer the other candidates a chance to explain positions troubling to him and his listeners?
I’m sure they would leap at the chance.