The performances given by the 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls at The FAMiLY Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa this weekend were breathtaking. As the forum was sponsored by the politico-Christian FAMiLY Leader and was expressly a Christian event (It was held in First Federated Church in Des Moines) candidate witnessing was expected.
Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all told of their concrete experiences with Jesus, their reliance on their Creator. Ron Paul tried to sound as religious as possible, sharing his faith with over 3,000 attendees and Herman Cain* shared how God helped him overcome stage four cancer.
But it was Newt Gingrich’s performance that kept me on the edge of their seats. An adulterous, thrice married man sitting on the stage with such religious-right powerhouses as Santorum and Bachmann, one would think he was bound to falter. But not Newt, ever the chameleon and conservative performance artist, he rose to the top of the crop.
FAMiLY Leader front man Bob Vander Plaats was impressed, telling the Des Moines Register:
“He’s very good, he’s very articulate and he puts it in such a historical, constitutional, world-view context,” Vander Plaats said. “He’s a great teacher.” Vander Plaats said Gingrich stood out in a focus group that moderator/pollster Frank Luntz conducted after the forum with Christian conservative women. “Newt blew it out of the park in the focus group,” he said.
For Vander Plaats, voice of Evangelicals in Iowa, this is an enthusiastic pre-endorsement of a morally questionable candidate. Vander Plaats said that TFL wouldn’t make any endorsement until after the forum, but it seems like they may be getting close. With Vander Plaats earning the moniker of political kingmaker, GOP hopefuls covet TFL’s nod.
Following TFL (and its precursor The Iowa Family Policy Center) for a few years, my first instinct was its endorsement would go to Rick Santorum. Santorum made a point to join Vander Plaats’ crusade to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010. He swooped into Iowa, along with Tony Perkins and the National Organization for Marriage to rail against gay marriage and “judicial activism” during TFL’s “Judge Bus Tour”. The multi-city bus tour resulted in the three justices losing their job for ruling to legalize same sex marriage in Iowa in 2009.
TFL endorsing Santorum would be a losing proposition if they wish to remain politically powerful post caucus. Santorum will not take Iowa. A Gingrich endorsement would ensure TFL and Bob Vander Plaats a kind of relevancy beyond 2012.
One of the questions posed to the candidates asked them to recount a personal experience that solidified their faith and resolve. Michele Bachmann pointed to the story of her parents divorce, Rick Santorum retold the story of almost losing his infant daughter, Herman Cain wept through a retelling of his battle with stage four cancer.
When the question came to Newt he chose to riff off of Santorum’s genuinely moving story. Unable to search his history for a relevant spiritual awakening, Gingrich spoke of a friend’s child that had brain surgery. Fighting back tears, Newt then made a miraculous segue, from a young boy’s battle for life to ‘Obamacare’ bashing. The crowd went wild.
I expect The FAMiLY Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich any day. For a group that claims to be grounded in biblical teachings, family-values and staunch Evangelical Christianity – it feels a little hypocrite-y, doesn’t it? With this endorsement, Newt will go on to win Iowa and then fade from the race as Romney takes over and TFL will ride the wave of picking a winner. And Gingrich will have successfully achieved his only goals in this presidential race: sell lots of books, jack up his speaking fees, leave a trail of lies in his wake and experience the rapturous joy of hearing himself speak.
*Herman Cain didn’t get one question about the sexual harassment and sexual abuse charges against him. This was by design. According to Right Wing Watch, Tom Minnery head of forum co-sponsor Citizen Link, said there would be none of those gotcha questions for Herman. Makes sense right? Don’t address Newt’s infidelities and multiple marriages or serious charges against Cain at a Christian forum where the truth will set you free.