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On the March 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, while discussing the divorce records of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) extramarital affair, guest host and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory asked: "Who will Christian conservatives back? Will so-called 'values voters' be able to find a candidate who fits the bill?" Gregory later hosted Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to discuss the possible impact that divorce and adultery will have on the decisions of those he repeatedly called "values voters." Perkins stated that "values voters" and "social conservatives" will support "the candidate who most clearly addresses their issues and identifies with them and endorses the pro-family agenda."
Gregory is only the most recent media figure to equate "Christian conservatives" with "values voters" -- when in reality, a March 7-11 poll by The New York Times and CBS News found that 46 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party "comes closer [of the two parties] to sharing your moral values," with 41 percent favoring the Republicans.
As Media Matters for America noted, on the October 22, 2006, edition of the CBS Evening News, correspondent Lee Cowan used the term "values voters" to describe social conservatives and members of the Christian right. As Media Matters has also observed, on the October 3, 2006, edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN chief national correspondent John King twice equated "pro-family voters" with "conservatives." And finally, a poll from the February 26 edition of Newsweek magazine included White House correspondent Holly Bailey offering a "'values voter' tally" of "the pros and cons of top GOP hopefuls" in the 2008 presidential campaign, as Media Matters noted. The article listed one of McCain's "pros" as "tr[ying] to make amends with the Christian right."
Media Matters has also documented that Perkins has repeatedly associated with racist groups and individuals, including former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke and the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, even as he has used his own radio show, Washington Watch Weekly, to level accusations of bigotry against Democrats.
From the March 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
GREGORY: And Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani has been married three times, Senator John McCain had a divorce, and Newt Gingrich admitted he had an affair while leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Who will Christian conservatives back? Will so-called "values voters" be able to find a candidate who fits the bill?
GREGORY: Welcome back to Hardball. Twenty-seven years ago, Ronald Reagan became the first and only divorced candidate to be elected president. So, will divorce be an issue in the 2008 presidential election? Some conservatives think so.
Both Republican front-runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have been divorced, and Giuliani's family troubles have become an issue with the Christian Right. Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, and Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He's also author of the upcoming book, The Divided States of America? Welcome to you both. I want to get to this issue of divorce and the impact on values voters.
GREGORY: So why is it? What are you upset about? What are you unsatisfied about?
PERKINS: I don't think it's people being upset; I think what social conservatives in particular are looking for in a leader, is someone who can address really what they see as the twin threats facing our nation: externally, terrorism through Islamic radicals, rogue states, and then internally, the moral decline of our country. They want a candidate that can boldly and courageously address both -- not one or the other, but both. We had that in Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush, same way. I think that is what has made the party successful in the past.
GREGORY: But you don't see that in this current crop? You don't look at Giuliani, McCain, and Romney.
LAND: Not the front-runners. The front-runners all have problems. In the case of Giuliani, three divorces -- marriages is two too many for most social conservatives.
GREGORY: Why is that? How did we get to a certain number being too many and one is acceptable.
LAND: Well, look, character. I mean, if we turned around and said, "Oh, it doesn't matter that Giuliani's been -- is in his third marriage or if Gingrich gets in the race; he's in his third marriage." People in the media would justifiably fry us up in a pan and serve us as the hypocrites of the century for making character an issue with Bill Clinton. When it comes to presidents in particular, social conservatives think that character is an issue. And as Harry Truman once said: "A man that will lie to his wife will lie to me. And a man that'll break his marriage oath will break his oath of office." Now, in this country where divorce is so rampant, I think most people will give people, depending on the circumstances, they'll give them a pass on one divorce. But two? That's one too many for most social conservatives.
LAND: Just today in USA Today, there was a poll that said that people who go to church once a week, 48 percent of them would be uncomfortable voting for somebody who'd been married three times. That number doesn't shock me at all.
GREGORY: Tony, final point on values voters, 'cause here's the bottom line, and it's kind of a reality question. If, out of the current crop, you've got a Romney, a Giuliani, or a McCain, particularly those latter two, McCain or Giuliani, and they are the favorites -- I mean, there's a question about, well, where are values voters going to go? They may be unhappy, but where are they going to go? And this could be a cycle where values voters don't have the potency they had in the past, no?
PERKINS: I think if you give -- you have those three -- and I would say the field's far from settled. As you see, [former Sen.] Fred Thompson [R-TN] --
GREGORY: It's a mistake to focus on this --
PERKINS: I think it is. But I do think it's going to go -- the support of social conservatives will go to the candidate who most clearly addresses their issues and identifies with them and endorses the pro-family agenda. That is the candidate that will get the support. You have Romney that's out there talking very broadly and very strongly about those issues, staking ground that the others have not staked -- McCain, somewhat; Giuliani refusing to talk about them, saying they're not even important.