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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. The Dude

    None of these people are real Christian. A real Christian would support the only candidate that is anti-war.

    Ron Paul.

    December 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Most of the people on this board don't know anything about Ron Paul. That doesn't mean they're not Christian. It means that Ron Paul's PR is awful!

      December 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Some racial comments made over the years in Paul's name have not been very "Christian".

      December 21, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  2. frootyme

    We are a free country and preach others for separation of Church and State.
    Oh, no! I forgot that we only preach and but follow it differently.

    December 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      "We?" Prolly not.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  3. AtheistinLA

    George Washington would be so proud of the tenor of the comments on this board. Look ye, here, here are the dirty washings of democracy.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  4. dan

    Wow
    Only in America is a candidates religious views this important. Oh wait I forgot, It's also important in the Muslim world. Yes that's right the USA is as insane as the Muslim world.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      America had started to drift away from such religious litmus test nonsense but it came roaring back with a vengence when the GOP went courting the Evangelicals. Now the religious party line is mandatory. But ... who's religious view is going to rule? Morman? Baptist? Catholic? Hmmm. Couldn't we please go back to the premise that American's enjoy religious freedom and that it is bad taste to bring it up in politics?

      December 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Wow is right. You just characterized 1.5 billion people as "insane". I think that's some kind of prejudice record, even for an uninformed, bigoted right-winger! Congrats!

      December 21, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  5. Abinadi

    What I know about Mitt is our state had won the Olympics, but it was in big trouble. We were headed for a disgrace. Mitt accepted the challenge, came out, accepted no pay unless it was profitable, turned it around and made it a stunning success! Mitt is a shrewd businessman and he knows what he is doing. He is the only one in the country who is running for president that can turn our country around. He is genuine, solid, and a good man. Support him!

    December 20, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      What is the similarity between running a two week long set of athletic events and running a country with 300 million people?

      December 20, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      *waves to Mitt Abinadi Romney* Hiya, Mitt.

      December 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • atroy

      Please learn you relative pronouns and how to use them.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      News flash: America is not a corporation.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  6. Zubi Afghani

    Why is religion synonymous with discussion a about the GOP? Are they a religious party? It seems any mention of Republicans is soon followed by Evangelicals and Christians. Is their Bible their platform? or the laws and mandates of Christianity?

    December 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Duh! If this is a surprise to you, where have you been for the past 20 years? The evangelicals decided to become political and force their religious views on others by taking over the Republican Party! Swept it right out from under the feet of the fiscal conservatives. Surprise! So much for separation of Church and State.

      December 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Today's republican party is a religious cult underpinned by a criminal enterprise.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  7. JonPeter

    Thank god...; (pun intended)

    December 20, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  8. Wally

    This is interesting because???

    December 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      You posted this comment because??

      December 21, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  9. david

    Its so sad that the christians in this country have aligned themselves with the greediest most evil among us. Last time I checked greed is one of the seven deadly sins and not a christian virtue.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Zubi Afghani

      So what do you do with all that wealth? Share it?

      December 20, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Zubi Doobie, nothing like forced charity!

      December 21, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  10. David

    Jesus was apolitical, but He would clearly vote Democrat. Just read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25, and the entire Book of James. The religious Right-wing is biblically illiterate. It's the only way to explain how they support political values so diametrically opposed to true biblical Christianity. Go ahead, religious right. Pick up your Bibles, blow the dust off of it, and then look up where you can find the above references. Hers's a hint. They are all in the New Testament. The would be after the Old Testament.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • JonPeter

      Don't be so sure. He would certainly favor the hard working craftsperson, shopkeeper, teacher and the like. However, I don't believe he would promote the concept of share the wealth with the lazy, those who threw away talent or failed to learn, who have multiple children out of wedlock and expect society to pay for them.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • popejon

      Actually JonPeter, Jesus did preach to share your riches with the poor. That being said, Blue states get more financial aid then Red states. So why do you call your own "those who threw away talent or failed to learn, who have multiple children out of wedlock and expect society to pay for them"? That's not a nice to put Republicans down like that....

      December 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Earth to David, Jesus cared no more about political parties than he does Tim Tebow's opponents next Sunday. "My kingdom is not of this world". Render unto Caesar...it was a comment made to teach stewardship, but hardly the focus or concern of His ministry on earth.

      Thanks.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  11. Joe

    They're not fractured. They're cracked.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  12. us1776

    Jesus would certainly not be helping the greedy.

    .

    December 20, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  13. Dontbow

    NO it's cnn that is fracturing the evangelical base by always find ways to bash people of faith or those who don't think in their idiotic ultra liberal manner. Thankfully republican have brains and can think for themselves on who to vote for. They aren't just tools of cnn and most of the other liberal media filth.

    December 20, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • nina

      Perhaps you should put that Bible down and pick up a textbook every so often. It might help with your grammar.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      " it's cnn that is fracturing the evangelical base by always find ways to bash people of faith or those who don't think in their idiotic ultra liberal manner. Thankfully republican have brains and can think for themselves on who to vote for."

      So ... which is it? CNN is either fracturing the base or the base can think for themselves – although I think by your post you've pretty much given us anecdotal evidence against the latter.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • popejon

      Dontbow, if CNN is such a "idiotic ultra liberal manner" then why are you even posting on this site? What does that say about you and your intelligence?

      December 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • atroy

      Of course republicans are not tools of CNN; Fox holds that honor.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      "republicans can think for themselves." Riiiiiiight. That's why they have Fox "News" and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  14. dan

    Newt is so 20th century. He had his time in the House. He's not a president.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  15. Abinadi

    Don't want to support a qualified Mormon? Well, fine, get ready for 4 more years of Obama. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a cult. It is Christian, our differences are minor, and we should stop fighting among ourselves.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_gKOCb4QBA

      see i can run an Ad from 08 and its just as relevant

      December 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Go grab a dictionary. All religions are cults.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • CN

      lol at posts like these. you guys had four years to come up with someone better, and the best you can offer literally puts the nation in the awkward position of complaining when romneycare is foisted on us by a black man, but accepting it if it comes from a white man. and your party doesn't even like him because he's not the right kind of christian. this is why the right wing is DEAD WRONG, jefferson DID want a separation between church and state because it messes everything up, as the 2012 election is proving.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Mormonism is most certainly a religious cult! I have read two books about Mormonism recently and it is like reading about crazy people.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Kramer

      I presume based on your comment that you've read the book of moron. The differences are huge!! Maybe in 2000 years, Mormonism will be the religion of the masses, but now it's clear that J Smith was a charlatan who was crazy enough to add more mythology to an already shaky at best christian myth. I fail to understand how anyone can follow that nonsense.

      December 21, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  16. twgloege

    Fractured????!!!! These folks are way past fractured.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  17. The Left Wing

    The whole Republican Party is fractured. They want someone who shares their values and someone who can win a general election. Unfortunately for them, someone who truly shares the values of the far right wing (and that's must of the Republican Party) cannot win a general election against creditable opposition. So, the cast about trying to find an impossible combination. Their only hope is that the Democrats make mistakes. In this bad economy, that is possible. So, you now see Republicans trying to hurt the economy. Their games over the pay roll tax cut extension is an example. However, in their desperation they have made a move that many people can see through.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Zubi Afghani

      You are so true. It seems that they will do anything to damage the job growth or damage it just enough for them to win. I am surprised the Dems are not calling them on it.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  18. Tom

    I don't think it matters much who the republicans nominate as their candidate for president. It will be like President Obama will be running unopposed.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  19. Senor Ed

    Why would a group of Evangelicals be endorsing a mixture of lube and fecal matter? Is there something they aren't telling us?

    December 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • atroy

      Wipe that Santorum eating smile off of your face.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  20. Cat

    It's very simple, evangelicals will not vote for a Mormon. Mormonism is a cult. I'm no longer religious, but I was raised in an evangelical Christian household and everyone I knew in the church thought Mormons were of the devil. I can't believe people think Romney will even have a chance. Between that, and adulterer/creep Gingrich, evangelicals are more likely than ever to stay home in 2012. Evangelicals wouldn't have voted for Cain because he's black and heck, his name reminds them of Cain and Abel. And they sure won't vote for a woman because they believe women are lesser than men. Republicans need to find themselves a vanilla Christian white man, whose name isn't synonymous with something VERY disturbing on Google, to vote. I'm surprised Perry isn't doing better. He is about as bright as George Bush and evangelicals like 'em pretty and stupid.

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

      very well said

      especially true of southern evangelicals. remember they once used the bible to condone segregation and even slavery

      December 20, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • popejon

      Cat, I agree with everything you said. That being said, I was raised in a catholic household and everyone I knew thought evangelical Christianity was not only a cult but a cult full of crazy people. I find it so amusing how Christians do a really good job at hating each other and denying who are "true Christians"....

      December 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Bernard Webb

      Right on! +1000

      December 21, 2011 at 7:21 am |
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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.