RUDY AND THE EVANGELICALS….Salon emails to draw my attention to Michael Scherer’s latest piece, which tells us that this weekend evangelical leaders will be holding a followup to their September meeting in which they threatened to support a third-party candidate if Republicans nominate Rudy Giuliani:

“There will be further exploration of what is to be done,” said Howard Phillips, the president of the Conservative Caucus, who participated in the Salt Lake meeting. “And there will be some discussion of who would be a viable independent candidate.”

….Ever since the September meeting in Salt Lake, conservative Christian leaders have been increasing their public protests of a Giuliani candidacy, arguing that it would sever the coalition between evangelical voters and the Republican Party that dates back to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. “The establishment just doesn’t get it,” said Dr. Richard Land, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, in a recent interview. “I cannot vote for a pro-choice candidate as a matter of conscience.”

The Land quote is especially telling. Despite the fact that (a) presidential candidates are chosen via primary and (b) opinion polls all show wide rank-and-file GOP support for Giuliani, Land is convinced that it’s “the establishment” that’s screwing with evangelicals. These guys just can’t escape a mindset in which they’re a besieged minority constantly battling powerful elites who are determined to shut them down.

Of course, what really terrifies Land and the others is that they know, in their hearts, that just the opposite is true. The power brokers of the Republican Party are desperate to keep evangelicals on board. They’d dump Rudy in a heartbeat if they could. But the grassroots, after six years of George Bush, is no longer quite so happy with the devil’s bargain they made with evangelicals all those decades ago. It’s ordinary voters, not the establishment, who have gotten tired of the single-minded obsession over abortion and gays that the evangelical leadership has foisted on them. It’s no coincidence that a socially moderate candidate is their favorite right now, and that’s way more threatening to the evangelical stranglehold on the GOP than the opinions of a few party leaders.

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