Last week's Newsweek seemed to sink deeper and deeper into my shoulder bag last week during my journey to greater Los Angeles. Thus, I am only now getting around to reading that cover story about the revolt in talk radio against GOP nominee-in-waiting (pending further New York Times review) Sen. John McCain. It's an interesting read, but the only passage that really jumped out at me was this one, which comes after the obligatory opening about Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, etc. GetReligion readers whose eyes glaze over at the mention of Southern Baptists and Dr. Richard Land (flash back) should stop reading at this point (although you'll miss an interesting quote):
The revolt went beyond talk radio's political shock jocks. James Dobson, one of the nation's most prominent evangelical Christian leaders, declared he could not "in good conscience" vote for McCain and endorsed Mike Huckabee -- the first time Dobson had ever taken sides in a GOP primary. ...
The uncivil war also pulled in some stalwarts of the GOP "base," such as Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "Rush is even ranting against me," Land tells NEWSWEEK. "I had the temerity to challenge the Great One in his all-knowing wisdom. Rush is underestimating the ability of Hillary or [Barack] Obama to unite conservatives around McCain. Rush says on air, 'Dr. Land, I'll tell you, I talk to 20 million people a day.' No he doesn't. He talks at 20 million people a day." (Limbaugh declined NEWSWEEK's interview request.)
OK, Rush vs. the Southern Baptists is interesting. Round II of his wars with Huckabee?
Now this is where things get interesting and very, very vague.
The numbers suggest an apparent gap between the movement's leaders and rank-and-file conservatives. In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, McCain holds a marginal lead among conservatives (49 to 43 percent) in a showdown with Huckabee. Seventy-six percent of all GOP voters and 69 percent of self-described conservatives say they would be satisfied with McCain as the GOP nominee. However, on Saturday, the first test since McCain became the presumptive nominee, Huckabee trounced McCain in the Kansas caucus, winning around 60 percent of the vote.
As the country learned anew in 2000 and 2004, every vote counts -- especially every vote in states (like Ohio) where the margin of victory in a general election is likely to be narrow. If even a handful of conservatives were to follow the Limbaugh-Coulter line and stay home, it could make a real difference. McCain knows that, which is why he is moving to address the trouble to his right. Sens. Tom Coburn and Sam Brownback, widely respected among right-to-lifers, have been contacting prominent social conservatives, including many members of Congress, urging them to take a second look at McCain's record.
Confused? Here's the question: Who are the GOP leaders and who are the rank-and-file?
This may strike regular GetReligion readers as a bit strange, but I really think that the Newsweek team needed to add some additional, more accurate, labels to this piece. Is Limbaugh the same kind of conservative as Land? What are the differences between the two and why are they clashing? Why is Bill Bennett on one side and Michael Savage on the other? While I am asking questions, why was Limbaugh so opposed to Huckabee's brand of populist conservatism in the first place?
I am reminded of that earlier quote from Land about the priorities of "evangelical" voters:
"If you were going to prioritize among evangelicals, their social views are first; their foreign policy views are second; and their economic views are third. They vote against their pocketbook all the time and have demonstrated that they do so."
Now, is that true only for "evangelical" voters? What about the old Reagan Democrats and the centrist Catholics who are the all-powerful swing voters in election after election? What about Orthodox Jews? African-American churchgoers? How about Hispanics in Pentecostal pews? Hispanics who are in Mass once or more a week?
Newsweek missed a major point here and it was sitting right there in the open.
The bottom line: What are the moral and religious views of someone like Rush Limbaugh? In reality?
What are the moral and religious views of someone like Dr. Richard Land?
Where do their values and priorities clash?
Answer those questions and you may be able to figure out what will happen with voters who trust someone like Dobson more than they trust the likes of Coulter. This may also explain why pro-life leaders -- cultural conservatives, again, as opposed to pure GOP types -- have been quicker to endorse McCain than the leaders of the GOP establishment and those who carry their water on radio.
I was reminded, yet again, of scribe Michael Gerson's 2004 presentation at a Pew Forum meeting in Key West, Fla. Remember that? During a wide ranging speech and Q&A -- text of the speech here -- Gerson said that the great divide in the W Bush White House was a familiar one, with the small-c "catholics" pitted against those whose conservatism was more libertarian in nature. In other words, conservatives whose first priorities were social and moral vs. those whose first priorities were economic.
Now, ponder that as you tip-toe through the confusion of that religion-haunted Newsweek cover story. I think you will find more than a few ghosts.