In last week's episode of The Bachelor, also known as the GOP presidential debates, we learned that the tough-talking, sassy little cross-dressing firecracker from Manhattan was too racy for Dr. James Dobson.
"I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision," the leader of Focus on the Family declared in a column. "I will either cast my ballot for an also-ran—or if worse comes to worst—not vote in a presidential election for the first time in my adult life. My conscience and my moral convictions will allow me to do nothing else."
Giuliani's transgression is being pro-choice, although Dobson tossed in Rudy's three marriages, support for domestic partnerships, and multiple (valid) charges of dressing in drag for good measure.
And were that the end of it, we could say that Dobson just has fundamental problems with Giuliani on the issues. But then a funny thing happened. Dobson almost immediately began talking up former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That would be the same Romney of the "evolved" position on abortion.
"I mean he's very presidential and he's got the right answers to many, many things," the Boston Globe quoted Dobson as telling radio host Laura Ingraham on her show. Dobson also indicated that he may end up supporting Romney, although he has not made up his mind.
It is worth noting, however, that Dobson is fast running out of candidates. He has also said that he cannot support Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has questioned former Sen. Fred Thompson's faith, practically demanding that Thompson prove he is a Christian.
As the Harriet Miers episode demonstrated, Dobson clearly places a great deal of value on such things. Virtually alone among conservatives Dobson rode to Miers' aid and testified to her fitness for the Supreme Court, based almost solely on her membership in a conservative Dallas church.
But back to Romney. This would be the same Mitt Romney who in 2005 began to slide away from his previous pro-choice views in what was widely perceived as a move to make himself more attractive to conservatives. Like Dobson.
"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country," Romney said in an October 1994 debate during his run against Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). "I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it."
Now how does Dobson square his conscience and convictions with that? A couple ways.
One, the $250 million or so Romney has in the bank and the $20 million he has raised so far this year, making him the top GOP money-man. Two, Romney shows up in the top half of the presidential polls.
Both are attributes Dobson's home state candidate and staunch abortion opponent Rep. Tom Tancredo, for example, doesn't have, and won't ever have. In this way, Romney is a practical choice for Dobson, not a principled one.
And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that Dobson seems unable to admit that a cold political calculus plays a role in his pronouncements on the fitness of candidates for office. James Dobson wants the most conservative presidential candidate he can find who can win. Nothing wrong with that last part, so let's dispense with the melodramatic reading of candidates on and off "the list."
Further, let's stipulate that Dobson's dalliance with Romney is partly (primarily?) intended to induce former Speaker Newt Gingrich to jump into the 2008 race before it is too late. Dobson has repeated praised Newt as a cut above the current crop of candidates and forgiven him his adulteries, a dispensation not extended to Rudy .
But Gingrich's antipathy for campaigning and fundraising cries out for some big league personal wealth for the general election stretch run. Maybe Dobson already envisions a Gingrich-Romney ticket storming to victory.
God does work in mysterious ways.
Reason contributor Jeff Taylor writes from Charlotte, North Carolina.
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