Paul Weyrich to evangelical leaders: We should have backed Huckabee; Update: Weyrich disavows anti-Romney ad

A belated solution, perhaps, to the mystery of why he threw Mitt under the bus last week. Sounds like he was never a big fan on the merits but was wooed by the siren song of electability. Which, in Mitt’s case, turned out to be as melodic as the McCain Girls’ latest.

Last month at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New Orleans, several dozen leaders of the “Christian right” met to strategize next steps—but the meeting inevitably included discussion of missteps in the GOP presidential campaign…

The room—which had been taken over by argument and side-conversations—became suddenly quiet. Weyrich, a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong.”

In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

Huck’s gripes on this point occupy a nice chunk of the NYT’s profile of him from December, although they were obscured at the time by the media frisson over his idle wondering in the same piece about the relationship between Jesus and Satan in Mormon theology. Quote: “Richard Land swoons for Fred Thompson… 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.” Is that it? Did electability sink him? Sounds like it:

Huckabee could not gain traction among the religious right leaders who could have generated the financial backing he needed to run a national campaign. In October, as well, he met with a group of conservative Christian leaders—most drawn from the ranks of the CNP gatherings—who say they were “vetting” the candidates. Most didn’t like Huckabee’s positions on immigration and tax reform. Others thought him insufficiently ardent in criticizing Islamic extremism and abortion. Members of the group believed that Huckabee was “their guy” from a religious perspective but said he was not quite ready for “prime time.”

But no other candidates thrilled the leaders, either, so Huckabee was the one candidate they invited back for what one leader called a “do-over.” He did much better the second time, yet the group remained too divided about his winning potential to agree to endorse him. When he won a stunning victory in Iowa, he didn’t have the resources to take advantage of that upset in the primaries that immediately followed. McCain beat Romney in New Hampshire, and the Arizona senator soon became the unexpected front-runner.

I don’t quite follow. Their constituency is big enough that any Republican nominee would have no choice but to woo them in the general election even if he hadn’t received their endorsement in the primary. It’s no secret how much many of them hate McCain — look for the line near the end of the World Mag piece about Maverick having “no clue what we’re about” — but here he is anyway, gladhanding John Hagee and putting together a “Committee of 50” to help get out the evangelical vote. They could have backed Huck as late as mid-January, in time to tip South Carolina to him, which would have given him fresh momentum and a cash infusion ahead of Florida and then god knows what would have happened. It’s not like they came out en masse for Romney, the supposedly “electable” social con, either, so what gives? Were they worried that Huck’s squishiness on the war and spending might have alienated some of the flock? Don’t forget, while most of Huck’s supporters were evangelicals, it’s by no means true that most evangelicals were Huck supporters.

Who knows? Maybe this is just Weyrich et al’s attempt to get back in the good graces of a guy who now wields considerable influence among their base. Exit question: What if? What if they had endorsed him after Iowa?

Update: I don’t know what the story is with Weyrich but all this vacillating isn’t doing him any favors.

Recently I received a phone call from someone asking if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney should be Arizona Senator John McCain’s selection for Vice President of the United States.

I said, “No” because I did not think this was the best path for Romney right now; nor was it, in my view, the right fit for McCain. My understanding was that this was to be a personal letter to the Senator; it was not clear to me that this was to be an advertisement.

Thus, I now request that my involvement in this effort be disregarded as this effort to influence the Senator moves on.