The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy official is involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to defeat President Barack Obama and stop former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney from garnering the Republican presidential nomination.
Richard Land, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has been involved with private strategy meetings and discussions for months – all while portraying himself as a nonpartisan observer and attempting to deny his role.
On Friday, Land appeared on the MSNBC program “Andrea Mitchell Reports” to talk about efforts by some evangelical conservative leaders to unite behind one Republican candidate to stop frontrunner Romney from winning.
Land provided clear indications of his involvement with this effort, but he refused to admit his participation.
At the end of the segment, Mitchell attempted to move Land from playing the role of an observer-commentator to admitting his involvement in the effort to help evangelicals coalesce around one candidate to beat Romney.
She asked Land if he would be at the meeting that weekend on the Texas ranch of former SBC first vice president Paul Pressler.
Land, demonstrating his knowledge about the meeting, attempted to deflect the question by saying there was “no summit this weekend.”
The meeting will instead be the weekend between the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
When Mitchell realized the mistake on timing, she then asked if Land would be at the summit the following week.
The SBC’s top ethics leader merely smiled and replied, “Well, I, no comment.”
Mitchell responded that she took his “non-denial” as “confirmation” of what their sources said – that Land would be at the meeting. The grinning Land did not contest her comment.
Land started the discussion by suggesting he was privy to – and likely part of – numerous private conference calls between conservative evangelical leaders attempting to stop Romney.
The recent discussions were prompted by the results of last week’s Iowa caucuses.
Evangelicals split the vote and allowed Romney to squeak out a narrow victory despite the fact that Romney received less support than four years ago when he lost to Southern Baptist pastor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“Well, there’s been a lot of discussion among social conservative leaders since Tuesday night after they finished pinching themselves Wednesday morning that one of the truest of true social conservatives had risen to the top ranks in Rick Santorum,” Land told Mitchell. “They pinched themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming. And then the discussions have started. And I can tell you that you might want to buy some stock in one of the telephone companies because they’ve had a lot of business with conference calls discussing this issue.”
Land added that the discussions focused on how the anti-Romney vote splintered between several candidates and how continued divisions among social conservatives could allow Romney to win the nomination.
“Because if you took the vote that Santorum got and you took the vote that Gingrich got and you took the vote that Perry got and you took the vote that Bachmann got, you would have outvoted Romney two-to-one in Iowa,” Land explained. “But because of the division among the conservative candidates, there is real concern that Romney will win without having to face one concentrated effort of a conservative challenger.”
Last summer, EthicsDaily.com broke the news that Land joined a closed-door meeting of nearly 80 conservative pastors and leaders organized by evangelist James Robison.
Robison’s group previously met in September 2010. Land also attended that session.
Robison led a similar effort prior to the 1980 presidential election as he sought to defeat then-President Jimmy Carter. That effort culminated in an August 1980 rally in Dallas with the then-Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan as the key speaker. Land attended the 1980 rally.
Perry started strong in the presidential polls – after hosting a prayer rally in a football stadium with the support of many from Robison’s group – but he dropped dramatically in the polls due to poor performances in debates. He finished a distant fifth place in the Iowa caucuses.
After Santorum’s strong showing in Iowa, Land now praises the former Pennsylvania senator.
Land previously offered an opportunity for political redemption to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich during Gingrich’s short-lived time at the top of the polls.
On MSNBC last week, Land compared the current divide among conservative evangelicals to that in 2008.
Then, Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson split the vote enough to allow U.S. Sen. John McCain to win South Carolina – despite the fact that McCain won fewer votes than when he placed second in the Palmetto State to George W. Bush in 2000.
McCain’s South Carolina victory propelled him to the presidential nomination.
“What I’ve heard over and over again in these discussions is we don’t want to make the same mistake this time that we made with Huckabee in 2008,” Land said, once again revealing his strategic involvement. “People didn’t rally around Huckabee as the, you know, social conservative alternative because they didn’t think he could win until it was too late and McCain already had the nomination sewed up.”
“What I hear conservatives saying is we need to keep talking about this and we need to let Gingrich and Santorum and Perry continue to make their case but at some point – earlier rather than later – we need to try and unite all the conservative – social conservative forces around one candidate and have this great debate that so many people want to see between the Romney and the non-Romney,” Land added.
Land’s contention that conservative evangelicals do not need to rally behind one candidate until after South Carolina actually puts the election in the same timeline as in 2008, thus potentially repeating the scenario.
“Richard Land swoons for Fred Thompson,” Huckabee complained less than a month before the 2008 Iowa caucuses. “I don’t know what that’s about. For reasons I don’t fully understand, some of these Washington-based people forget why they are there. They make ‘electability’ their criterion. But I am a true soldier for the cause. If my own abandon me on the battlefield, it will have a chilling effect.”
Land has a poor record of political punditry, as he often equates his opinions with the perspective of conservative evangelicals in general. Additionally, though he often claims to be nonpartisan, his past record demonstrates a clear partisan record favoring conservative Republicans.
Putting aside any pretense of nonpartisanship, Land announced his voting intentions on his radio program “Richard Land Live!” As he talked about the Republican nomination, Land said Saturday that he would vote for the Republican nominee over Obama.
“I’m going to vote for the most conservative candidate who can win,” Land said as he acknowledged borrowing the philosophy from the late William F. Buckley Jr. “Now if that means that Mitt Romney is running ahead of Mr. Obama in the polls and Mr. Santorum is running behind Mr. Obama in the polls, then I’m probably going to vote for Mitt Romney because I don’t think our country can survive another four years of Mr. Obama without being fundamentally changed economically, culturally and socially.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.