It's a travel day around here, so I'll keep it pithy:
Over the next several days, at the "Values Voter Summit" in Washington, the '08 Republican presidential candidates will be vying for the blessing of religious conservatives. Those traditional gatekeepers of the GOP nomination remain frustrated that they can't seem to find anyone who satisfies their purist sensibilities.
The auditions should be fairly predictable.
Rudy Giuliani will play down his liberal past on social issues, by invoking 9/11 with some frequency and vowing to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court; Mitt Romney will spin his flip-flops (from liberal on abortion to conservative on abortion) as some sort of spiritual awakening, and brag a lot about his family (in a veiled contrast to all the divorced guys in the race); Fred Thompson will say he has always been a consistent conservative, and overlook his own past lobbying efforts on behalf of an abortion rights group; Mike Huckabee will play up his previous life as a pastor, and skip over the fact that donors still don't seem to want to give him any money; John McCain, who's hoping in vain that his listeners have forgotten his 2000 dismissal of Christian conservatives as "agents of intolerance," will paint himself as a man of conviction by contrasting himself with Romney's flip-flops.
(Indeed, here's an excerpt from McCain's speech today: "I have been pro-life my entire public career....That is a personal testament, which you need not take on faith. You need only examine my public record to know that I won't ever change my position to fit the politics of the day.")
Meanwhile, there's one other development that should displease the religious right. The departure today of Sam Brownback - the Kansas senator, plagued with microscopic poll ratings, is dropping out of the race - translates into a rise in the percentage of Republican candidates who actually believe in evolution.
With Brownback in the race, the EA (evolution average) was .556...meaning, only five of the nine candidates said they endorsed evolution. But with Brownback gone, the EA will climb all the way to .625. No wonder the religious conservatives feel that their decades of political toil has yielded insufficient satisfaction.
But even though Rudy Giuliani continues to have problems with the religious right, there is ample polling evidence that he is a popular with another sizeable segment of the population:
I know that sounds harsh. But, as I mentioned several weeks ago, there is still a huge pool of people who inexplicably persist in believing - despite all the massive empirical evidence to the contrary - that Saddam Hussein plotted 9/11. Last month, a New York Times/CBS News poll determined that 33 percent of Americans believe Hussein was “personally” involved. And last June, a polling firm sponsored by Newsweek put that percentage at 41.
And, according to Times/CBS, take a guess which '08 candidate most strikes their fancy. The pollsters asked these clueless Americans to rate all the candidates in terms of favorability, and the winner was Rudy Giuliani - who has already proved to be a master at rhetorical sleight of hand, by repeatedly implying, a la the Bush administration formula, that all bad guys are indistinguishable...a tactic that also conveniently excuses the Bush team for its ill-fated decision to invade Iraq.