(Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
No one knows what to make of this weekend’s meeting of evangelicals at the Texas ranch of former legislator and judge Paul Pressler – not even some of those who are attending the event. The gathering is not the first time top Christian leaders have gotten together to discuss which candidate can best carry the pro-family flag into the GOP convention but time is no longer on their side.
The South Carolina primary is a week away and some of the GOP candidates are now starting to look to Florida where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to have a strong base of support. Yet the divide within the GOP appears to come down to the mainstream pro-Romney faction and the “anyone but Romney” group that is larger but divided within their own ranks.
While there is little information about what the weekend meeting – which includes Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer – will achieve, one of the organizers made clear that the purpose will not center on “stopping” Mitt Romney.
Earlier this week, Bauer, CEO of American Values, personally endorsed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
“I know that Sen. Santorum is gaining some momentum right now, and I think what people are hoping to accomplish at the meeting is just to see what can be done to make sure that conservative values, the sort of Regan conservatism continues to dominate in the Republican Party,” said Bauer.
It’s not clear just how many will actually show up to the meeting – the approximate number on the invite list was about 150. But The Christian Post spoke with several invitees who did want to be identified and spoke only on background. Most were not optimistic any one person would emerge as a “consensus” candidate that everyone would fall in line behind.
“It’s not that I’m opposed to the discussing the issue of endorsing someone,” said one leader of a large evangelical group. “We’ll have those who support Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry at the meeting. That means some will want to give one of those a chance to throw the long ball in South Carolina. But after the South Carolina primary something needs to be done quickly or it will be a one-man race.”
Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and someone who has been in the conservative trenches for over 50 years, did acknowledge he was attending and was steadfast in his hopes that the group would reach an agreement to support one candidate.
“Now is the time and the clock is ticking,” said Viguerie. “We’ve given the Doles and McCains of the past their chance and look at where it’s gotten us. We got to rally behind the candidate that will commit to fighting for conservative social and economic principles. But Mitt Romney is not that person.”
Yet several noted Christians who were invited are not attending.
“My wish is that one of two things would have happened,” said another high-profile conservative leader. “Either this meeting would have taken place last month or the primaries would be extended another two months. But it’s too late for either. What this meeting needs to be about is how we’re going to rally social conservatives behind whoever the nominee happens to be.”
This Sunday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Faith & Freedom Conference will convene and all of the top GOP candidates will make their pitches to South Carolina conservatives prior to Monday’s Fox News Presidential Debate.