Reading GOP tea leaves -- again

TeaLeavesAgainPeople read different newspapers for different reasons and, here in Beltway land, one of the main reasons people read The Washington Times is to be able to listen to some of the inside conversations in the conservative establishment -- including its discontents. It's kind of like centrist, churchgoing Democrats trying to read between the lines in E. J. Dionne Jr. columns in The Washington Post. There are certain forms of GOP and evangelical paranoia -- not always the same thing -- that are not official until they show up on page one in The Washington Times. It's not as official as page one of The New York Times is for mainstream Democrats, but it's close (and that says a lot right there). That would make Fox News the GOP court of higher appeal?

Anyway, there are religion ghosts all over the place in a page-one piece by Stephen Dinan and Ralph Z. Hallow that ran with the headline "Giuliani foes in GOP panicky." The newspaper really needed to admit that this was a religion piece.

The bottom line: The rising tide of country-club GOP opposition to Mike Huckabee is based on the following concept. An evangelical vote for Huckabee is actually an evangelical vote for the demonic Rudy Giuliani because it prevents the selection of a real non-Rudy candidate who can win. And the problem, of course? Why are some evangelicals not flocking to the other real candidate? That would be Mitt Romney.

The stakes are high for these folks:

They fear that victory by the socially liberal former New York mayor could permanently shatter the largely successful coalition of social, religious, economic and national defense conservatives that, more often than not, has worked electoral magic for Republican candidates at all levels.

"The main driving force behind all of that is a belief that Rudy Giuliani is positioned to win the nomination and a belief that, and I describe it this way, the four most central planks in our Republican platform would be sacrificed in the process: life, marriage, guns, border security," said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. He said the calls and e-mails in Iowa grew "utterly intense in the last week" as Republicans urged one another to settle on an anti-Rudy candidate.

A new poll showing a statistical tie between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for the Jan. 3 Iowa first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses is fueling the frenzy.

"What conservatives have to realize is that Giuliani is now relying on Mike Huckabee to take his most viable opponent, Mitt Romney, down in Iowa, and that anyone voting for him there in the caucuses will be inadvertently, and ironically, helping the New Yorker," David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said earlier this week in a surprise endorsement of Mr. Romney.

So there you go. But do you see the problem? Look at that list of the core four again -- "life, marriage, guns, border security." Is that a list that would unite the moral and social conservatives? No. Only half of it is, especially if you include churchgoing Catholics. And is that a list that includes the big wallet and global issues for the Dick Cheney wing of the party? No.

It's the same old divide between the churches and the country club, and the Times may end up having to report that. And, again, if Romney is the only real non-Rudy candidate -- as people keep insisting he is -- someone is going to actually have to do a story focusing on the tensions between mainstream evangelical and Catholic leaders and Romney.

To see what that tension is about click here, for another Washington Times page-one story. Or even here, in The New York Times. Or check out the Howard Kurtz column in The Washington Post that asks whether MSM reporters should be asking the religion questions in the first place.

Yo, editors -- it's time to call in the religion-beat specialists.

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