January 5, 2012
Social Conservatives to Gather to Decide Which Candidate to Back
Four years ago, conservative leaders worried that an upstart candidate with little financial support would split the conservative base and allow a moderate to win the Republican nomination. This year, you might see Rick Santorum as the new Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney as the new John McCain. And conservative leaders are once again facing the possibility that the nomination will go to someone whose main virtue to social conservatives is that he is not a Democrat. But conservative leaders will soon gather together to see if they can back a single candidate—something else they have tried before but failed.
Politico reports that leaders of conservative organizations will meet in Texas to decide on a single candidate to support. The meeting will include James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family), Don Wildmon (founder of American Family Association), and Gary Bauer (founder of American Values). The event will bring together members of the Arlington Group, a group that unites leaders of conservative organizations to discuss, interview, vet, and coalesce behind a single presidential candidate. In 2007, the Arlington Group decided against backing Huckabee, leaning instead toward Fred Thompson, who was seen as being able to mount a national campaign. Of course, Huckabee won the Iowa caucus, Thompson quickly dropped out, and the nomination went to McCain.
Huckabee told World that the Arlington Group “pretty much dissipated” after the 2008 election. “I think [the Arlington Group] splintered and split and many of them took issue with each other because they felt that they had failed to do what originally they had compacted to do, which was to early on interview candidates, pick a candidate, and then coalesce behind that one candidate and try to unite the strength and force that they could. They failed to do that,” Huckabee said.
The Arlington Group has since revised itself. Last summer, the group looked seemed to be unifying behind Rick Perry. Six months ago, social conservatives met and held conference calls to rally support for Perry. The Texas governor hosted a large prayer gathering with the help of the AFA and other groups. When Perry's poll numbers plummeted, the movement was left scrambling. For example, on the same day (December 20) Wildmon endorsed Newt Gingrich but Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader in Iowa, endorsed Santorum.
After the dust settled in Iowa, Romney stood at the top of the pile of social conservative candidates. While Santorum won the lion share of the votes, the voting bloc was fractured. Michele Bachmann has since dropped out. Perry looked like he would be leaving but continues to campaign. And Santorum and Gingrich are campaigning in New Hampshire. The gathering in Texas will serve as a last-ditch effort to organize behind one candidate.