A coalition of influential Christian conservatives over the weekend threatened to back a third-party candidate for president if Rudy Giuliani or any other “pro-abortion candidate” wins the Republican nomination for president. The move by the group—which included James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council—came after months of warnings that the nomination of former New York mayor Giuliani’s liberal positions on social issues could splinter the GOP.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Giuliani supporter, said the former New York City mayor’s strength on bedrock issues, such as terrorism and “fiscal discipline,” would overshadow all else. “Conservatives are rallying around the one candidate with the executive experience and proven leadership our country needs,” he said.

A “revolt” by leading Christian conservatives could mark “a significant setback” for Giuliani, said David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times (free registration). White evangelical Protestants are a huge pool of primary voters. But this clash is “risky” for both sides. If Christian conservatives at the grassroots level are “dislike Democrats” or are so focused on the war that they back Giuliani anyway, Christian conservative leaders will lose clout.

“The actual story is less dramatic” than liberals would have you believe, said Power Line. Whoever “leaked” this information obviously wants to discourage the GOP from nominating a socially liberal candidate. But the party won’t split if Giuliani is nominated, and “religious conservatives” aren’t about to “elect Hillary Clinton by backing a spoiler candidate.” No matter what liberals believe, religious conservatives “aren’t stupid.”

No, but they’re not willing to be ignored any more, said Jonathan Martin in The Politico. President Bush’s failure to “champion” the marriage amendment and other disappointments have left many religious conservatives feeling like the GOP only pays them “lip service” at election time, only to ignore them once in office. “Now, as demonstrated by the abortion resolution, they're indicating a willingness to speak out and, if necessary, challenge the party head-on.”

But “the religious right has yet to unite” behind any of Giuliani’s rivals, said Michael Finnegan in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). Ironically, Christian conservatives are so “splintered” that they might actually “ease the way" for Giuliani to become "the party's first nominee to explicitly support abortion rights since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in 1973.”