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. Suffolk100

    These hypocrites are no more religious than the Communist Chinese Leaders. These are the folks that if Jesus where here today, they would crucify him. The only thing these MORONS worship is the dollar. It is a CULT religion and the young folks are finally figuring that out. They take from the poor and homeless for their own greedy self.

    December 21, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  2. Carrie Ruano

    If these Christians practiced their religion they would be feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. They say no one wants Obama care, I don't know who they talk to, probably other rich GOP, but the unemployed, the working poor or the sick with no insurance were not polled. I in instead these rich hypocrites want the seniors to pay more for their Medicare, adjust the age of Social Security age so that you will die before you get it, all this so these good rich Christians don't have to pay any taxes! Hypocrites you will be judged for this!

    December 21, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  3. Stephanie Palmer

    Hopefully they will realize that while they're interested in their individual religious beliefs, a very few people in this country are taking all of their money, with the help of Congress, of course.

    December 21, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  4. More Nonsense from CNN

    Really....this article is filler. Reminds me of a day time talk show. They put gossip garbage like this out so they don't have to talk about the real issues that they don't want exposed. If the real issues were exposed there would be a lot of upset rich people who've been feeding off of the establishment for too long. I haven't seen a good report from CNN since I started checking the site a few months ago. Establishment agenda.

    December 21, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  5. gera

    if they believe in God or not it does not matter. Anybody is going to make decisions base on what they believe (God's commands) or by their own believes (science) or wherever. So stop complaining about Christianity. I believe in Jesus Christ, if you don't that's fine. You are free to believe in whatever you want. Grow up

    December 21, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • SixDegrees

      There's a very large difference between personal beliefs and using the power of the state to ram those beliefs down the throats of every citizen. Evangelicals are actively pursuing the latter course, and are not content to live in a free land where they can simply believe things for themselves. They are an existential threat to America and its foundational principles.

      December 21, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  6. DavidE7

    The big mistake was in not getting behind Mike Huckabee in 2008. He could have out-debated Obama and won the Presidency. We would have a much better country today if that had happened. Huckabee is explicit about his faith, but he is not an ideologue but a pragmatist who showed in Arkansas that he could unite competing factions. Most of all, Huckabee is far more intellectually brilliant than his aw shucks personality would suggest. Because the GOP would not support him in 2011, Obama will be re-elected.

    December 21, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  7. cgs

    Evangelicals have lost all credibility if they support Newt. I know they love a repentant sinner (the more sins the better) but past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior and of ones character. Newt has too many problems and cannot win against Obama.

    December 21, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Matt B.

      Would Mrs. Gingrich be the first, First Lady who is an adulteress?

      December 21, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Isn't there something in The Babble that says the wife of a husband that commits adultery is also an adulteress? if yes, then Jackie Kennedy has to considered.

      December 21, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Actually, both of you need to study your history more. Rachel Jackson was still legally married to her first husband when she married Andrew Jackson, therefore she was officially the First Adulteress. Also there are rumors that Eleanor Roosevelt had a lover, too. Poor guy must have been as blind as a bat, because even in her youth she wasn't much to look at. So Jackie, who may or may not have had an affair while JFK was still alive, was not the first First Lady to be an adulteress.

      December 21, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Actually, I was poking more at "the wife of an adulterer is also an adulter" aspect. I think a thumper quoted The Babble on this recently. I wasn't accusing Jackie of having an affair. My "off the top of my head" presidential affair memory doesn't go back very far – it s not something I need to remember or would spend much time researching.

      December 21, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  8. 1954Nana

    Evangelicals aren't fractured they just aren't a bunch of sheep that don't think for themselves.

    December 21, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  9. Friend of the Invisible Friend

    OK. Jaaaaaysus just answered my email. He says all male descendants of white europeans who use his name in their campaigns are honest and sincere candidates that we can completely trust. He pointed out that Jimmy Carter and Dubbya are the two greatest presidents who ever lived. That seals it for me!

    December 21, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  10. Sigma 666

    "Maybe they are "tuned in" to Someone that you're not......"
    Maybe it's the cartoon channel. Clowns would do that.

    December 20, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  11. Miss Demeanor

    RE: "Btchslap
    Wow, Dave, you're quick. Mind as sharp as a thumbtack. Probably already figured out how to use the remote by yourself, too."
    Thumbtacks ARE sharp...how about "sharp as a marble"?

    December 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  12. Reality

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Newton Leroy Gingrich, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    December 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Bill Ulater

      "The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies"
      Just curious... how is an already existing voting bloc that is NOT having children growing? I'm not sure you thought this one through.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      About 1,000,000 abortions per year are performed in the USA, many for the first time, some for the second or more time. it is this group Reality is referring to.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Reality

      "Facts on Contraceptive Use

      January 2008


      • 62 million U.S. women (and men?) are in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]

      • 43 million women (and men) of reproductive age, or 7 in 10, are se-xually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a con-traceptive method.[2]

      • The typical U.S. woman (man?) wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she (he?) must use cont-raceptives for roughly 3 decades.[3]


      • Virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have ever had int-ercourse have used at least one con-traceptive method.[2](and men?)

      • Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using one.[2] (and men)

      • 31% of the 62 million women (and men?) do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had inte-rcourse; or are not se-xually active.[2]

      • Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but are not using con-traceptives.[2] (and men?)

      • Among the 42 million fertile, s-exually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing con-traception.[2] (and men?)


      • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice con-traception use reversible methods, such as oral con-traceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]


      Percentage of women (men?) experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)


      Pill (combined) 8.7
      Tubal sterilization 0.7
      Male condom 17.4
      Vasectomy 0.2

      Periodic abstinence 25.3
      Calendar 9.0
      Ovulation Method 3.0
      Sympto-thermal 2.0
      Post-ovulation 1.0

      No method 85.0"

      (Abstinence) 0

      (Masturbation) 0

      More facts about contraceptives from



      Cont-raceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002

      Method No. of users (in 000s) % of users
      Pill 11,661 30.6
      Male condom 6,841 18.0 "

      The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).

      i.e. 0.087 (failure rate)
      x 62 million (# child bearing women)
      x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
      x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =

      1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies
      during the first year of pill use.

      For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level)

      1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

      The Gut-tmacher Inst-itute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
      (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

      o Conclusion: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

      December 21, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  13. fedup99

    Keep religion out of politics and maybe we won't tax your church.

    December 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • 1954Nana

      Go ahead and tax churches – will free up the political movements to reach out to church commuities and have plenty to say ..............

      December 21, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Mikey

      keep your secular activists out of politics and maybe we won't tax them.

      December 21, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  14. zip

    Funny that the most religious of the Republicans, Mitt Romney, will not receive one Christian endorsement. Still think evangelicals will for vote him??

    December 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Most likely, they will. Their leaders may exhort against him, but in the end they'll vote rather than sit the election out. What's more important, however, is how the vast moderate portion of the country will vote; the fringes mean little in the general election.

      December 21, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  15. EndTheHate

    Remember the "religious right" is neither.

    December 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Larry L

    Interesting that Christians would even consider Newt Gingrich. Morality and honor can't possibly be a part of their decision. I suppose they give him credit for being neither an African American nor a Mormon. What would Jesus do? He wouldn't be an Evangelical Christian in the modern Republican Party – that's for certain.

    December 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • LJTurner

      I doubt Jesus would be a Christian in this day and age; they are so divisive, so intolerant of good people and seem to simply want everyone but themselves to go to hell. They are a sad bunch.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Miss Demeanor

      Jesus refused to be aligned with politics... oddly the zealots who claim to be following his example are trying to do just that. They certainly aren't following the spirit of his message. Fundamentalist, evangelical zealots gave us Jimmy Carter and Dubbya. I know I learned my lesson from those two.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Bill Ulater

      Since ole' Jerry Falwell is no longer my direct connection with Jeeeeeeezus, I just emailed your comment to Jesus and asked who he wants us to vote for. Be patient. We've been holding our breath for over 2000 years.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Mildred the Mouth

      Jesus was a good Jew. He would be appalled if he knew what they did with his message.

      December 20, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  17. warmesTghosT

    If you read between the lines of this article it basically admits that vast swathes of our electorate are basing their political vote solely on their opinion of which man (sorry no women allowed) is the "truest" Christian. Indeed, not even their own opinion in many cases, but those of influential preachers and pastors. These people are completely ignorant/misinformed by the MSM (including CNN) of what their representatives are actually doing in Congress and the Senate – and the White House.

    Our entire political system has been corrupted by lobbying and corporate interests, and we're swallowing the lie that one side did this or the other did that. It's all an act. They're all getting richer by pitting us against ourselves.

    It's a shame when you vote for someone simply for their faith, particularly when they've so clearly not lead anything close to resembling a "Christian" life.

    I will vote for anyone of any faith who has social and fiscal policies that I mostly agree with. Look at some of these candidates' pasts and ask yourself – have they acted like Christians? Or are they just wolves in sheep's clothing trying to steal your vote?

    Think for yourselves.

    December 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  18. Olaf Big

    Louisa Ferre,
    I got the Earth, the stars and the Sun, but why the shucks worship and not just enjoy???

    December 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  19. Jordan

    Who cares who the relgious right supports? If certain individuals want to say that they are inspired by god to run for office or to do good works let them. That way, we know they are schizophrenic because they hear voices that no one else hears.

    December 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Maybe they are "tuned in" to Someone that you're not......

      December 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Jabowalk

      Yeah, tuned into delusional interpretations. The schizoid overlay upon their thinking distorts it and it becomes less than ideal.
      Mystical scare tactics to show us where most of this crap comes from: liars sitting around campfires telling stories because you don't want to look ignorant so you make something up.
      Lying well is considered a skill in some cultures. Islam for example, or megachurches, or the GOP....they all show support for the bigger liars, the most outlandish and rabid of the reactionary fascists who seek the takeover of our govt and the destruction of people they do not like.
      And who they don't like is most often determined by their religion and ideology and subsequent group-identification.
      To be "tuned in" is to be living the lie, lost in the dream, wearing distorted sunglasses and hating outsiders and perceived enemies of the group along with getting social reinforcement and a warm feeling of community with your fellow crazies.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Btchslap

      I can just see Dave with his eyes all bugged out as big as fried eggs as he seeks to declare every unknown to be his personal interpretation of an idiot god without real powers. Only the mindless idiots susceptible to that sort of thing would fall for it.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  20. sandalista

    " Unlike religious people, I treat all religions equally'"
    C. Hitchens

    December 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      I suppose that means that Mr. Hitchens hated and berated them all pretty much, equally.

      December 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Btchslap

      Wow, Dave, you're quick. Mind as sharp as a thumbtack. Probably already figured out how to use the remote by yourself, too.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • bananaspy

      Sure Dave, why wouldn't he? One would mock a grown man for believing in Santa Claus, why would you treat a religion any differently? Because a lot of people believe in it? So what? Lots of people used to believe the world was flat. Lots of people used to believe slavery was okay (didn't help much that the Bible condoned it either). Religions are silly, they should be no more immune to berating than people who believe Elvis is alive and well. The fact that they offer false hope to people does not make them any less silly either.

      December 21, 2011 at 3:48 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.