Religious right splintering points to larger problem

It seemed like a fairly significant deal over the weekend when over 100 prominent and influential evangelical leaders — all significant players in the religious right movement — held an “emergency” meeting in Texas to discuss what to do about the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Soon after, the pastors and activists voted to support Rick Santorum.

It didn’t take long, though, for the new push to start to unravel. (via Laura Clawson)

A civil war is breaking out among evangelical leaders over allegations of a rigged election and ballot stuffing at a Saturday gathering of religious and social conservatives.

At the meeting about 150 religious conservative activists at the Benham, Texas, ranch of Nancy and Paul Pressler, Rick Santorum supporters claimed the former Pennsylvania senator was chosen on the third ballot as the consensus candidate to try to stop Mitt Romney’s march to the Republican presidential nomination.

The meeting was called to avoid a continued division within social conservatives’ ranks.

But in back-and-forth emails, Protestant fundamentalist leaders who attended — most of them backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to be the anti-Romney candidate — are accusing Catholic participants of conniving to rig the vote.

I can’t speak to the merit of the accusations, though I find the underlying charge rather odd — participants at the meeting were effectively choosing between Santorum and Newt Gingrich. They’re both Roman Catholic, which made the need for pro-Catholic manipulation unnecessary.

Nevertheless, after the assembled evangelicals spoke largely with one voice immediately after the confab, several prominent evangelical leaders reiterated their support for Gingrich, rejecting the idea that the Saturday meeting led to a “consensus.”

I don’t much care who the religious right movement rallies behind, and I think it’s almost certainly too late to make a difference anyway. These guys should have been crafting a 2012 strategy months ago.

Regardless, the only person enjoying this in-fighting among evangelical leaders is the one candidate they all hope to defeat: Mitt Romney. It was the purpose for the meeting in the first place, and now the effort appears to be falling apart.