Dan Gilgoff, who literally wrote the book on the Focus on the Family founder, argues that Romney might have won the GOP nomination if figures like Dobson - evangelical leaders who were obviously sympathetic to Mitt - had been willing to confront the Mormon issue head on, instead of tiptoeing around it:
In an interview last year, Dobson acknowledged that "there are conservative Christians who will not vote for (Romney) because of his Mormon faith," but he said that wasn't necessarily "the correct view or my view."
As Dobson warmed to Romney — the two had a getting-to-know-you session at Focus' Colorado Springs headquarters last year — he could have opened a dialogue with his millions of radio listeners about why evangelicals should feel comfortable voting for a Mormon, even if they rejected his theology.
Instead, he took public swipes at Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain, leaving his evangelical fans to deduce his support for Romney and Huckabee by process of elimination ...
That "could have" seems persuasive to me - but then again, I'm not James Dobson. It certainly seems like an early effort by quietly pro-Romney big shots in the evangelical community might have made a big difference in the final outcome; on the other hand, I also have to assume that Dobson and his associates have a pretty fine-tuned sense of where his audience stands and what they're thinking. Once Huckabee's star began to rise, in particular, it's possible that they decided that if Focus on the Family were perceived to be siding with a flip-flopping, formerly pro-choice Mormon over a consistent social conservative and rock-ribbed evangelical like Huck, they'd look like sell-outs to an awful lot of their listeners. Huckabee liked to suggest that the religious right's leadership was out of step with its foot soldiers and more concerned with preserving the GOP coalition than standing by their principles; I doubt that Dobson et. al. wanted to do anything that would vindicate this line of argument and jeopardize their credibility with the grassroots. And I imagine, as well, that they took the derision generated by Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani as a cautionary tale.
At the very least, though, Dobson might have delivered that "undorsement" a little sooner ...
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