Rick Santorum got a potentially important boost over the weekend when a prominent group of evangelical Christian leaders voted to join ranks and back the ex-senator's presidential campaign. But Santorum might not benefit as much as he would like. The endorsement has become tainted by controversy, with religious conservatives who support Newt Gingrich charging that the vote was rigged. So instead of presenting a united front, says Ralph Z. Hallow in The Washington Times, the meeting touched off a what some evangelicals are calling a "civil war." Here's what you need to know:
What was this gathering all about?
After Mitt Romney swept Iowa and New Hampshire, a group of more than 100 influential evangelical leaders got together for an emergency meeting in Texas to discuss the race for the Republican presidential nomination. According to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a "supermajority" decided to back Santorum, a staunchly anti-abortion Catholic, in the hope that a unified evangelical vote could help derail Romney and result in the nomination of a more reliable conservative.
So why the controversy?
Several religious conservatives who attended the meeting said there was no consensus to back Santorum. One participant — Bush administration evangelical-outreach official Doug Wead, a Ron Paul supporter — said the event was nothing more than a pro-Santorum stunt. "The organizer was for Santorum, the person who created the invitation list was for Santorum, the emcee was for Santorum," Wead said. Gingrich supporters said the vote had been "manipulated," and one participant even accused Santorum supporters of ballot stuffing.
Do Gingrich's supporters have a legitimate complaint?
"This wasn't a clean sweep by Santorum," says David Brody at CBN.com. "Gingrich clearly had evangelical support in the room," so his backers have every right to point out that evangelical leaders aren't endorsing Santorum with one voice. It doesn't matter which candidate evangelicals back anyway, says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. This emergency anti-Romney scheming is "almost certainly too late to make a difference." And now, with all this in-fighting, evangelicals are probably giving a boost to Romney, rather than Santorum.