A special meeting of big names among social conservatives this weekend ended with a "consensus" vote of support for presidential candidate Rick Santorum. But what goes unmentioned in any of the news accounts so far is the irony that Santorum, a Catholic, has won such enthusiastic backing from evangelicals, even though his competition includes Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, an evangelical. Far back in second place, was Newt Gingrich, also a Catholic.
Sen. Santorum definitely needs overwhelming evangelical voting support in South Carolina if he is to move ahead. Some 60 percent of GOP primary voters in 2008 considered themselves evangelicals. Catholics, on th other hand, can't help him much. Only two percent of the South Carolina population is Catholic, the smallest percent in any of the 50 states.
Santorum is a consistent and energetic social conservative and as such always has appealed to evangelicals. That's taken for granted. Think, however, how different things are now than when John Kennedy ran for President in 1960. Then the Catholic Church was a big problem, now it hardly is mentioned. Conservative Catholics and evangelicals--and a number of conservative Jews--are close allies on issues and public policy strategy.
For a variety of reasons, including a hostile left wing secularism that targets all serious believers and is skeptical of Israel, conservatives of various faiths have found increased sympathy and support from one another. It only took a few hundred years since the relgious wars of the 16th century, but real comity seems to have arrived.
The big name evangelical endorsers who met in Texas this weekend obviously hope to have influence in the South Carolina primary coming up next Saturday. The appeal of such leaders as Tony Perkins and Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer probably will make the biggest difference for Santorum in fundraising, the candidate's single biggest weakness in the present competition.