Split GOP presidential endorsements reflect fractured evangelical base
Rick Santorum was endorsed by the head of Iowa's Family Leader on Wednesday.
December 20th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

Split GOP presidential endorsements reflect fractured evangelical base

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - When Newt Gingrich’s campaign announced Tuesday morning that it had won an endorsement from Don Wildmon, president of the evangelical American Family Association, it seemed like one more bit of evidence that the former House speaker has become the unlikely favorite of conservative Christian activists.

But a few hours later, Bob Vander Plaats, president of an influential Iowa evangelical organization called the Family Leader, announced he was throwing his personal support behind Rick Santorum.

The day of split Republican endorsements reflects a Republican religious base that is largely fractured just two weeks before the first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses.

The dynamic could portend trouble for the eventual Republican nominee, raising the prospect of a less than enthusiastic evangelical base in the general election, like Sen. John McCain faced in 2008. It could also mean a diluted evangelical role in choosing a nominee.

“There is certainly a difference among Christian and pro-family leaders in terms of who they will endorse,” says Mat Staver, who leads the Liberty Counsel, a faith-based law and advocacy group. “There hasn’t been any one candidate that a majority of Christian leaders have settled upon.”

“It looked for a while like Rick Perry would be that individual, but as the debates progressed, that’s seemed less likely,” says Staver, who is also dean of the Liberty University School of Law. “I think it’s cause for concern.”

A late November/early December CNN poll of likely Republican caucusgoers found that 31% of born-again Christians in Iowa supported Gingrich, while 19% backed Ron Paul, 12% backed Mitt Romney and 12% backed Perry.

The fractured Christian Right vote seems to echo the 2008 presidential race, when the movement’s leaders split their support among candidates, from McCain to Mike Huckabee to Rudy Giuliani, who won a surprise endorsement from televangelist Pat Robertson.

Since the presidency of George W. Bush, the GOP has struggled to find a national leader who could unite the evangelical and more establishment wings of the party.

Much of the recent evangelical enthusiasm for Gingrich, expressed by leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Staver (Staver is not yet endorsing anyone) is partly a reflection of evangelical angst over Mitt Romney.

Many evangelicals are cool to the former Massachusetts governor because of his past social liberalism on issues like abortion. Some rank-and-file evangelicals also take issue with Romney’s Mormonism, though few evangelical leaders admit to such bias.

Last weekend, an influential California preacher named Jim Garlow e-mailed a 9,000-word letter that praised Gingrich to evangelical pastors across the country.

“A part of my motivation in writing stems from the fact that I have spent much time with him over the past two years,” wrote Garlow, who helped lead the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008. “I am particularly concerned hearing people discuss some aspects regarding him about which they know very little.”

The Gingrich-centered letter included sections subtitled “personal issues,” “forgiveness” and “fit for the presidency.”

“I fully acknowledge his marital failures and sins and do not defend them in any way,” Garlow writes in the letter, which he says was sent to 28,000 pastors across the country. “I understand the steps of forgiveness and restoration and believe that Mr. Gingrich has walked, and continues to walk, in them.”

But other evangelical leaders have voiced skepticism of Gingrich, largely over his previous two marriages and his admission of carrying on an affair with his current wife in the late 1990s, when he was still married to his second wife.

Last month, Southern Baptist Convention public policy chief Richard Land wrote an open letter to the former House speaker calling on him to publicly address evangelical concerns.

“Evangelical men are willing to cut you some slack over your turbulent marital history,” Land wrote. “The bad news is that Evangelical women are far less willing to forgive and let bygones be bygones.”

Other evangelical leaders insist that Gingrich has already repented enough. “He’s a different Newt Gingrich than he was in the early 1990s,” says Staver.

Staver says Christian endorsements like the one for Santorum on Tuesday morning from Vander Plaats weaken the evangelical hand in shaping the Gingrich-Romney showdown.

“I like Rick Santorum, but everybody knows he’s not going to win the primary,” Staver says. “It’s an ideological endorsement that throws pragmatism out the window.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (258 Responses)
  1. JimBob

    The more educated and enlightened a society becomes, the less effectively you can win them over by appealing to their fear and hatred. Evangelicals are some of the least educated people in the country and these things still work on them. However, young evangelicals already don't bite at the same lure. If anyone really thinks their party will survive in the long term by screeching that gays be discriminated against and that non-christians are evil, they are quite simply delusional.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • bill

      where then would that leave the pagan/mormon candidate romney?

      December 20, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • 21k

      sadly, i think kids today are actually getting an inferior education compared to the past 50 years in science and math. so i see us as becoming more susceptible to control by cagey religious leaders during the next generation. and the pressure by right-wing groups to force equal funding for religious charter schools and home-schooling will only make it worst. lets hope the chinese are still atheists when they finally take over.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      I’m offended sr. Romny is not a Pagan no would any Pagan in there right mind associate with a Mormon

      December 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      Noted I cannot speak for all Pagans but Mormons scare me

      December 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • 21k

      do pagans ride harley's or is that the angels?

      December 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      No Pagan is a broad term, now a days that cover a vast group of religions that focus on the shared ideal of the sacred. That sacred being nature and the forces there of as well as ancestral worship

      Basically if you pray to the earth, the sun, the moon, or your ancestors you may be a pagan. It the idea that all life is sacred from the smallest pebble to the brightest star. We really don’t have a sense of the inanimate and all life is equally sacred, yes some ride Harleys I prefer Cadillac’s though.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  2. 21k

    even as a republican like me, you have to admit, these crazy xtians are no better than the nuts running iran.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Louisa Ferre


    sorry for the soup box i just feel like spamming

    December 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  4. Olaf Big

    If this guy Staves understands that Santorum won't win the primary, why does not he see that Gingrich won't win the general elections? Why undermine the only republican candidate who got a chance? Another case of faith getting in the way of reason?

    December 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Louisa ferre

      why are you still supporting Gingrich

      December 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  5. ThinkAgain

    The "evangelical base" has always struck me as being slightly cracked, so "fractured" is an apt description.

    December 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  6. anagram_kid

    They are split for the same reason there are hundreds of versions of Christianity. They each have their own agenda against what frightens them most – that someone else is having pleasure when they are not, losing power, change and having to continue learning everyday just to name a few. I really hope this is the group that the GOP dumps first when they decide to 'take their party back'.

    December 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  7. anagram_kid

    Colin – Great post!!!

    December 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  8. Thomas

    Was Jesus a Socialist or a Lobyst ?

    December 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Why vote if you believe in the Rapture ?

    Whats the point ?

    December 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • bill

      give unto rome(the state) that which is rome's, and give unto god that which is god's

      December 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  10. Louisa Ferre

    and i close with the big dog


    December 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  11. AvdBerg

    “The day of split Republican endorsements reflects a Republican religious base that is largely fractured just two weeks before the first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses.”

    The Word of God teaches us in 1 John 5:4 that whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. This is true as the people of this world serve the spirit thereof and the above words are confirmation thereof. This present world is Satan’s divided kingdom and as such the believers and followers of Christ do not involve themselves with politics (Matthew 12:26).

    For a better understanding how the people of this world have been deceived we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    December 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      followers of Christ do not involve themselves with politics? Now that is funny? I guess the entire Fox News staff as well as the Bush Administration never got the memo.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  12. Colin

    Dear Evangelical Christians:

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who withheld all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

    Sixth, I would have smited all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.


    December 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      God? Before you go, can you smite the entire Republican Party? Please........?

      December 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Colin

      I will gladly smite all evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Just think what that would do to the average IQ in the uSA. It would jump about 15 points. Seriously, it actually likely would.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      Yes! And more imporatantly, they wouldn't do stupid things out of Fear of your nonexistent ass.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Loathstheright

      Exactly put, I loved it....I hope you don't mind if I email it to some "Holier than thou" relatives.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Sir, show this to yer Momma. Mebbe th' Lady will wash yer blasphemous mouth out with soap. Jesus have mercy on Your Foolishness.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      Yes-I guess you are right Dave Davis. Life is meant to be serious only. We should never have fun in this life. We are here to suffer. Oh and you are Afraid of a man in the sky that does not exist. Fool.

      December 21, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  13. Leucadia Bob


    December 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Killing me softly with your love....

      December 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Louisa Ferre


    December 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  15. Louisa Ferre


    December 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  16. Louisa Ferre


    December 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  17. Louisa Ferre

    1.The frothy mix of lu-be and fe-cal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of an-al se-x.


    December 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Ungodly Discipline

    We didn't know evangelicals' were fractured? Fractured Fairy Tales.

    December 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  19. A Note

    What so many Christians fail to understand is that capitalism is an amoral economic ideology and is incompatible with Jesus' teachings.

    Jesus taught socialism.

    He also showed himself to be against unchecked greed, overturning the greedy money-changers who were intent on selling sacrificial animals at inflated prices within the walls of the Temple where they had no business being anyway.

    Many times he gave lessons in sharing. Take what you need and pass the rest along to those who have nothing and give of your own as well. Be nice. Etc.

    What a far cry from modern Republicans and the Christian right-wing who clearly oppose what Jesus taught!

    So any "endorsement" of anti-Christian values, which is exactly what the GOP has been doing since before Reagan, gives the lie to those people labelling themselves as Christian in the first place!

    December 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Loathstheright

      Funny, I am an atheist and I follow Jesus' teachings more than any Christian I know...odd how that is.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Today's "Christians" stand in loud, angry opposition to everything Jesus said, did, or stood for. Their principal value is intolerance, their principal tactic is whining and playing the victim. They want to post the Old Testament's Ten Commandments in every public building, but what about Jesus's actual words in the Sermon On the Mount, the centerpiece of his teachings? You will NEVER hear a right-wing religious nut quote the Sermon On the Mount. "Blessed are the poor"? I think not. Today's "Christians" are tools of the top 1%, nothing more.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  20. J.W

    I think now that an endorsement from an evangelical leader would be more of a detriment.

    December 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.