This discussion from US News, is interesting for any number of reasons, not least because of the suggestion by the spokesman for Focus on the Family that anyone who is not an "evangelical" Christian, no matter how reliably conservative on issues that matter to evangelicals, will have a hard time "connect[ing] with the Republican Party's conservative Christian base." In other words, he is applying a very narrowly defined religious litmus test (presumably on top of a fairly rigid ideological test) for "conservative Christian" support in the Republican presidential primary. This strikes me as something genuinely new, at least in its explicitness, but maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention to past Republican primaries.

Also interesting, particuarly for those who continue to support a conservative political alliance between Catholics and evangelicals, is how Catholics are clearly excluded by the aforementioned religious litmus test. Now, it's possible that Dobson does not speak for most "conservative Christians" on this, but he is certainly an influential figure in that community and we should probably take him as reflecting (or affecting) the sentiment of a significant portion of those voters. This obviously bodes ill for Rudy, although my sense is that being Catholic is the least of the problems the pro-choice, pro-gay rights, thrice married former mayor -- who is occasionally prone to cross-dressing -- will have with the "Republican Party's conservative Christian base."

Anyway, here's the excerpt from the story in US News:

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson appeared to throw coldwater on a possible presidential bid by former Sen. Fred Thompson whilepraising former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also weighing apresidential run, in a phone interview Tuesday. "Everyone knows he's conservative and has come out strongly for thethings that the pro-family movement stands for," Dobson said ofThompson. "[But] I don't think he's a Christian; at least that's myimpression," Dobson added, saying that such an impression would make itdifficult for Thompson to connect with the Republican Party'sconservative Christian base and win the GOP nomination.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Thompson, took issue with Dobson'scharacterization of the former Tennessee senator. "Thompson is indeed aChristian," he said. "He was baptized into the Church of Christ."

In a follow-up phone conversation, Focus on the Family spokesmanGary Schneeberger stood by Dobson's claim. He said that, while Dobsondidn't believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobsonnevertheless "has never known Thompson to be a committedChristiansomeone who talks openly about his faith." "We use that wordChristianto refer to people who are evangelicalChristians," Schneeberger added. " Dr. Dobson wasn't expressing apersonal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he wastrying to 'read the tea leaves' about such a possibility."

UPDATE: I've modified the language of this post and fleshed it out a bit to make more clear what I think is interesting about Dobson's remarks.

UPDATE II: Andrew Sullivan weighs in.

UPDATE III:  Faithful Democrats has some concerns about Dobson's pick as the authentically "Christian" candidate in the Republican primary.

Eduardo M. Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. The views expressed in the piece are his own, and should not be attributed to Cornell University or Cornell Law School.

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