Conservatives to gather, look for ‘consensus’

For Republicans hoping to deny Mitt Romney the party’s presidential nomination, the problem has never been their numbers. The former governor has consistently run into a modest ceiling precisely because so many in the GOP neither like nor trust him.

The problem, rather, has been their splintering. It’s never been enough to simply oppose Romney; in a seven-candidate field, these opponents need to pick someone else.

Remember the “Not Mitt Romney” initiative launched two months ago by some fairly prominent right-wing voices? It wasn’t a bad idea, except for the fact that these folks never settled on an alternative. The task for Romney’s Republican detractors can’t be to simply highlight his flaws; it’s to elect someone else. “Not Mitt Romney” isn’t, and can’t be, the goal; nominating one of his rivals is.

Apparently, this realization is starting to sink in, at least among some.

A group of movement conservatives has called an emergency meeting in Texas next weekend to find a “consensus” Republican presidential hopeful, POLITICO has learned.

“You and your spouse are cordially invited to a private meeting with national conservative leaders of faith at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler near Brenham, Texas, with the purpose of attempting to unite and to come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate or candidates to support, or which not to support,” read an invitation that is making its way into in-boxes Wednesday morning.

The meeting is being hosted by such prominent conservative figures as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon, onetime chairman of the American Family Association; and Gary Bauer, himself a former presidential candidate.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the anti-Romney constituencies within the Republican Party are pretty varied. This meeting will feature heavyweights from the religious right movement, but there’s not a lot of overlap between these GOP players and, for example, the folks behind the “Not Mitt Romney” campaign.

I mention this because even if this emergency meeting helps identify a “consensus” candidate, it doesn’t necessarily mean their choice will be the choice for all the anti-Romney forces within the party.

But it will be a step that seems long overdue. Politico‘s report added that the meetings participants will effectively choose between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, which from a theological perspective, creates a bizarre dynamic: evangelical Christian leaders will be selecting among two Roman Catholic candidates.

As for who has the edge, Gingrich has never gotten along with Dobson, so don’t be too surprised if by next week, the religious right starts coming out in force in support of Santorum.