The reporting of ABC News' Brian Ross has done to conservative Christians what the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal failed to do. He has divided them, and the rest of the mainstream media is having a joyous time covering the aftermath. Since journalists revealed that the House leadership could have potentially ignored at best and covered up at worst the sexual wrongdoing of Rep. Mark Foley, R.-Fla., conservatives everywhere are either calling for heads to roll or arguing that scandal is the fault of hypocritical liberals, a Florida newspaper that knew about Foley's behavior but didn't do anything, the mainstream media, homosexuals and Democratic political opportunists.
The party of family values, morality, justice and protecting innocent children failed for years to oust a sexual predator in its midst. Elected Republican leaders believe that values voters will not be thrilled to support politicians who allowed this to happen.
Check out The New York Times on Wednesday morning:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 -- Backed by measured words of support from President Bush, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert opened an intense drive on Tuesday to hold on to his post, but behind the scenes senior Republicans weighed whether he could survive the scandal surrounding former Representative Mark Foley.
Among the options being considered by senior Republicans is for Mr. Hastert to announce that he will stay on as speaker through this year but not seek re-election to the post assuming Republicans retain control of the House, said people on and off Capitol Hill who were involved in the discussions. They said the advantage of such a step would be to postpone a disruptive leadership fight until after Election Day.
Christianity Today's Ted Olsen compiled a great selection of articles chronicling the various positions held by conservative leaders, from the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins to James Dobson of Focus on the Family. The consensus among these leaders is that, yes, the scandal is reprehensible, but vote GOP in November anyway because the Democrats are much worse. That's the kind of encouragement voters need this fall.
Four months ago, Hastert was feted as the longest-serving Republican speaker, earning tributes from all segments of the party. "He's done a great job, and he's been a great partner to me and a great mentor to me," [Majority Leader John] Boehner said then.
And now, he's a great fall guy, too. "The clerk of the House, who runs the page program, the Page Board -- all report to the speaker," Boehner declared yesterday.
It was time for Hastert to take action to put down the mutiny. So he called Rush Limbaugh. And Sean Hannity. And Hugh Hewitt. And Lars Larson. And Roger Hedgecock. Even Neal Boortz, who said Hastert should find a "better excuse" for his inaction on Foley. "We're going to do them all," said Hastert aide Ron Bonjean.
Then there's this Post Style section ruling that details Foley's history as a closeted gay Congressman. What's clear is that Foley's misdeeds and the reaction of the House leadership have split the leaders of the GOP, but it has yet to be proven that this will affect the values voters in next month's election.
If the House or Senate flips parties, can the media legitimately pin the result on Foley and the leadership's failure to oust him earlier? Polling data and the events between now and Nov. 7 will help determine that story line, but the media have made one thing clear: conservatives are divided over how to guard their image as the party that stands for values.