WASHINGTON (BP)–Gary Bauer’s somewhat surprising endorsement of Republican presidential candidate John McCain has resulted in a rebuke from James Dobson, a friend and fellow culture-war combatant on behalf of many conservative Christians.
Twelve days after announcing his withdrawal from the campaign for the Republican nomination, Bauer endorsed McCain in what has become essentially a two-man race between the Arizona senator and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
In a statement released Feb. 16, the former president of Family Research Council said he disagreed with both candidates on some issues, but McCain “is a man of unshakeable honor and integrity and will bring respect back to the White House.” McCain has the best chance of “reversing the damaging years of the Clinton era and prevent Al Gore from being the next president of the United States,” Bauer said.
The next day, Dobson, who said he was speaking as a private citizen even though he is president of Focus on the Family, expressed his disagreement with Bauer’s endorsement in a strongly worded statement that seemed to take particular issue with some of his friend’s comments.
McCain “is being touted by the media as a man of principle, yet he was involved with other women while married to his first wife and was implicated in the so-called Keating scandal with four other senators,” Dobson said. “He was eventually reprimanded by the Congress for the ‘appearance of impropriety.’ The senator reportedly has a violent temper and can be extremely confrontational and profane when angry. These red flags about Senator McCain’s character are reminiscent of the man who now occupies the White House.”
Dobson also cited a number of public-policy positions held by McCain that caused him to disagree with Bauer’s endorsement:
— The senator’s votes for pro-choice Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
— His vote for research using tissue from unborn children.
— McCain’s support of normal trade relations, formerly most-favored-nation status, for China,
— His lack of support for educational vouchers.
— The senator’s agreement with assigning women in the military to combat roles.
Other reasons for his disapproval, Dobson said, were McCain’s failure to ensure he would select a pro-life running mate or pro-life justices; his acceptance of large contributions from the gambling and alcohol industries; and support of his candidacy by the “Log Cabin Republicans and other homosexual activists.”
The statement said in closing, “Given these concerns, it is difficult to understand how Gary Bauer can support him ‘with great pride and with absolutely no reservation.'”
The Dobson statement was not an endorsement of any other candidate, only a clarification of his refusal to support McCain, it said.
The division between two men who had worked closely together for more than a decade as heads of pro-family organizations came on nearly the eve of the hotly contested Feb. 19 South Carolina primary.
In his statement, Bauer acknowledged he had “serious disagreements” with both McCain and Bush.
On abortion, Bauer said he disagrees with both McCain and Bush in their support of exceptions for rape and incest, as well as the life of the mother. After discussing the issue with McCain, “I feel that he is sincere in his commitment to protecting life,” Bauer said.
He also described McCain as “publicly opposed to same-sex marriage.”
Bauer opposes both McCain and Bush on normal trade relations with China, but he said the senator’s “commitment to fundamental campaign finance reform will end the influence of the China lobby that is currently setting policy for our party and our country.”
Bauer announced his endorsement of McCain at a campaign rally in Greenville, S.C.
The Republican National Coalition for Life said in a statement Bauer fought at its side to protect the pro-life plank in the GOP’s platform in 1992 and 1996 but his endorsement of McCain “surprised and disappointed many of his friends.” Only Alan Keyes is truly a pro-life candidate among the remaining Republicans, RNC/Life said.
Bauer, who left the Family Research Council in early 1999 to seek the Republican nomination, said after exiting the race Feb. 4 he did not plan to return to FRC. The organization’s board of directors confirmed that decision and began the search for a new president the next week, FRC executive vice president Chuck Donovan said in a written release. Bauer’s endorsement of McCain does not reflect the view of FRC, which does not endorse candidates, Donovan said.
FRC was an arm of Focus on the Family during the first years of Bauer’s administration of the Washington-based organization. Bauer and Dobson continued to work closely together on a variety of issues after FRC became independent.