The Republican primary field is down to three candidates, but only one has the mathematical ability to amass the delegates needed for the nomination. Joining us this week to talk about the state of the race as it shifts to the general election is Greg Lebel, presidential campaign veteran and assistant professor of Political Management at the George Washington University. Greg answers our questions about the timing of Santorum’s suspension announcement, the sudden team switch to Romney by many evangelical leaders including Pastor Robert Jeffress (yeah, you’re remembering right – the pastor who called Mormonism a cult) and what he’ll tell future classes about the 2012 Republican primaries.

Click the “play” button above to hear the extended interview. Click here to download it. Scroll down to read the transcript. Click here for the full April 21, 2012 State of Belief Radio program. Click here to listen to Greg Lebel’s previous appearances on State of Belief Radio.

INTERFAITH ALLIANCE STATE OF BELIEF RADIO APRIL 21, 2012

RUSH TRANSCRIPT: GREG LEBEL

[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: The GOP primary field is down to three candidates – and only one has the mathematical possibility to amass the delegates needed for the nomination. In fact, despite being painstakingly slow in declaring victories in various state competitions, once Rick Santorum left the primary race, MSNBC declared the Republican race to be over.

Is that it? And what do we look to, to understand what’s likely to happen in November? Well, you know who I’m going to ask, and I’m very happy to do it – George Washington University Assistant Professor of Political Management Greg Lebel is right here in the studio, to give us a perspective only years spent inside presidential campaigns can provide.

Greg, thanks for joining us again on State of Belief Radio!

[GREG LEBEL, GUEST]: It’s great to be back.

[WG]: Well, a lot’s happened since we last talked.

[GL]: Certainly has.

[WG]: Let’s start with the biggest change in the race for the White House, the end of Rick Santorum’s noisy campaign for a theocratic administration. When the candidate made his announcement, what was your sense of the timing of it, and did it make sense to drop out at that time?

[GL]: Yes and for one very specific reason: he was going to lose Pennsylvania.

[WG]: Was that it?

[GL]: I think so. I think the campaign simply could not absorb an occurrence like that, and the polling indicated that he would probably lose. It was pretty clear that he was going to lose Pennsylvania – so it was time to get out. Otherwise, I think if he thought he could win Pennsylvania – he would have stayed in this race.

[WG]: OK. You’ve been on the inside of a number of presidential campaigns. How do you think that process literally played out internally, and do you think there’ll be enough goodwill on the part of Romney to bring Santorum and his team back into the picture in some way?

[GL]: Two interesting questions. The first question, the process is very painful. It’s a matter of moving a fairly large number of people into a place where reality exists. Often times the candidate does not want to let go, and the candidate has spent his or her time sort of building up that sense of purpose around the closest staffers, and then that sort of spills over and out. So it’s very, very difficult, as you can imagine, for a candidate to make a decision, after engaging in as much personal energy and expense and commitment to and by all these people, to finally say: “It’s time to get out.” But as I said, as a former senator from Pennsylvania – having lost by double digits in his reelection bid – losing Pennsylvania would have shoved him out in an ignominious way; so this was a way to do it that preserved, at least…

[WG]: The campaign manager probably told him.

[GL]: Probably, yes.

[WG]: OK, so how does Romney handle this?

[GL]: Well, for now I think he basically, sort of, lets Santorum step aside, and live in some kind of dignity for a while. I think that he was relatively gracious in seeing the campaign move on. It’s an interesting question, though, because Santorum didn’t do anything to ingratiate himself to Romney and the Romney campaign while he was in the race. The question becomes a political one for Romney: whether he needs the imprimatur of – and I used the term very specifically – of Santorum and his folks to move ahead in locking in that segment of the Republican voters, Christian Conservatives and low income voters who have just not warmed to this guy, and I don’t think the decision has been made yet.

[WG]: I see. Do you remember Gingrich and Paul?

[GL]: I don’t. Do you?

[WG]: What kind of significance do they have, now, in this process – or is it just Romney versus Obama for all intents and purposes?

[GL]: Gingrich has no significance whatsoever. He’s done. He’ll kind of hang around – although I’m not exactly sure why, but again, maybe it’s that process I just described to you – they haven’t gotten to the point where they’re able to just let go. I think that he believes that he has a message, but that message is no longer relevant to the process.

With regard to Ron Paul – he’s Ron Paul. None of the rules apply to Ron Paul, and he will continue. He continues to have that, you know, 9 to 11% of people who just are not going to let go of him, or let him let go; so he’ll play it out, and he’ll try, in some way, to have some sort of voice in the process, and probably in the writing of the platform, or something, but he really – he doesn’t have a lot to stand on, is the challenge.

[WG]: So was there anything to that talk about Gingrich being in the race to get rid of Santorum and be a friend of Romney?

[GL]: I don’t think so. I really don’t. I don’t know Newt Gingrich, but I – certainly, as we all have, sort of, been observers of Newt Gingrich for a number of years, and – it just doesn’t fit into the persona of Newt Gingrich. I think Newt Gingrich really believed he should be president.

[WG]: Will those people adamantly devoted to Ron Paul vote for someone else?

[GL]: That’s a good question. That’s a really good question, and I suspect that’s one segment of the populace that may not, who may simply stay home.

[WG]: May stay home. Well, recent polling – I know you’re aware of this – gives Obama an overall 1.7 point lead over Mitt Romney since Santorum dropped out. That’s a smaller spread than we were seeing early on. Is there anything to read into that at this point?

[GL]: Only that we’re seeing the bounce of the end of the primary process. Now that people know that Mitt Romney is the nominee, there’s a certain bounce that comes out of that among Republicans and some Republican-leaning Independents who say: “OK, Romney’s my guy.” So you do see that movement. I think every step of the way here, every week, now, those overall polls become less and less significant – because, as you know, we don’t run a national presidential campaign. We run 50 simultaneous presidential campaigns; so the question becomes not – although it’s interesting, and it does show some trends – the real question is what’s going on in some of those key states as we get further and further into this.

[WG]: Well, of course, this next week the big Mid-Atlantic primary is coming, with votes in five states including New York and Pennsylvania. It would have been a big day if Santorum were still in the running. Is there anything at all to look for, at this point, in those votes?

[GL]: The polls don’t suggest that there is anything – and this is, in one sense, good news for Romney in that he doesn’t have to worry about being embarrassed by losing something. It’s bad news for Romney in that CNN is not going to do, you know, many, many hours of coverage of this thing. It simply doesn’t matter. We’ll get the tally of the delegates at some point, but he doesn’t get any significant news, good or bad out of this. And again, the American public has just been told by the press that it’s over, and so that’s where the mindset is now. It’s over. It’s just a matter of him getting to 1144.

[WG]: My guest is George Washington University Assistant Professor of Political Management Greg Lebel.

When we talk I get to talk about politicians a lot – not particularly in a good light. I’m going to give you a chance to talk about ministers. Having made widespread headlines by calling Mormonism a cult just a few months ago, the prominent Texas pastor Robert Jeffress has now thrown his support behind Mitt Romney. Ministers who were staunch Romney critics are now working to build support for his campaign. We’re used to these kinds of shifts among politicians. It is a lot more nauseating to me to hear this among faith leaders. Does this really confirm that a lot of these guys are in it not from the religious dimension, but from the political dimension – and they’re in it at a level that blurs the line between Church and State?

[GL]: What else can it possibly say? This is just that classic example of the result of religion and politics getting too snuggly, and the result doing great damage to both sides – but especially, I think, to religion. I think that the credibility loss by this guy in taking these two positions…

[WG]: Credibility?

[GL]: Well yeah, and worse, and more, is really, I’d have to say, tragic. It really is a tragedy that these sorts of machinations and shifts can take place without any explanation. It’s so clearly about partisan politics. What else can it possibly be?

[WG]: Well, I suppose it could be that maybe somebody finally convinced him Mormonism is not a cult.

[GL]: I suppose that’s possible.

[WG]: But I doubt that. I doubt that he talked to anybody that disagreed with him.

[GL]: Right, I doubt he changed his mind on that. This is not about the religious aspect; this is about politics.

[WG]: Ok. So, Professor, years from now, when you’re in the classroom talking about this primary race from the beginning to Santorum’s dropping out, what do you think you’ll highlight about this time period? Are there things we can learn from the way the process has played out so far?

[GL]: First of all, I hope years from now I’m no longer in the classroom. I want to be sitting somewhere watching this, but that said…

[WG]: Ok, now that is credibility.

[GL]: That said, what this process has shown us, I think most immediately, is – and as we look back on it, we will have to call it the corrosive influence of mega-money in the process – I think that the Citizens United decision in the Supreme Court opened the gates, the floodgates of money that really changed the dynamic of this race. Now, I’m not sure that the result would have been any different; I’m not sure that Mitt Romney would not still be the nominee; but the process we went through, the fact that we had some of these guys playing in this as long as they did, has certainly changed the dynamics of the race over the long haul. Because Mitt Romney now has been put in a very difficult situation by all of this, because he’s got a chunk of his base who don’t trust him – I mean, it sounds a little bit like McCain – but he’s got a chunk of his base who doesn’t trust him. He’s been pulled to the right be people who would not have had as much of an opportunity to do that if there hadn’t been this much money, private and big money behind them, so he’s got to do two things at once now. He’s got to continue to shore up his base – I notice he’s giving the graduation speech at Liberty University, this is not where Mitt Romney needs to be right now – Mitt Romney needs to be working toward the middle. So he’s still doing that; but at the same time, he’s got to find a way to start to move to get to some of those downscale white voters who just think he’s too rich or too something to vote for.

[WG]: Greg, would you say that Santorum would have had to drop out of the race anyway, eventually, or was he hurt by focusing so much on one branch of Christianity, and going to so many churches to do his political stump speech?

[GL]: That’s in the general direction, but my feeling is that where Santorum really had the opportunity was in that economic message. We saw him get into trouble when he got trapped into talking about those things like contraception and separation of Church and State – John Kennedy’s speech making him want to throw up. That’s where he started getting into trouble. But I think that’s where Rick Santorum is naturally; he’s comfortable, that’s what he is about. So when he allowed himself to get pulled into those debates he hurt himself; if he had stayed in that realm of economic issues, and continued to make that appeal to people who feel like they’ve been burned by the Administration and the economy in general, he would have been in better shape, I think.

[WG]: He never really listened to the ultimate politician – whose name is Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid” – and he insisted on social values, and didn’t go where people were.

[GL]: Right. And it would have been worse if he had stayed, obviously. You know, if somehow he had managed to move ahead and get the nomination, that would have been deadly for him as a nominee.

[WG]: Well, I’ve got to ask two questions that need really quick answers, but that’s good, because they probably wouldn’t give you much more time than this anyway. What should Romney be doing right now, and what should Obama be doing right now?

[GL]: Romney needs to be – in addition to finding a way to thread that needle between his disaffected base and those middle Americans, those persuadable Americans – and part of that very important process right now is, obviously, who he chooses for Vice President. And I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t know what the right route is: whether it’s another boring white guy like him, or whether he needs to pull a John McCain – hopefully not quite as ill-prepared as Sarah Palin, but something like that – to sort of shake up his image.

The Obama campaign really has to begin to draw those sharp lines between President Obama and Mitt Romney in terms of who they are, what they stand for – and then, secondarily, what that means for all of these issues. But it’s got to be that distinction.

[WG]: Is it true – and I’m out of my league here and pay scale – but doesn’t this whole discussion about the economy have to come to grips with some degree of honesty about the situation that existed when President Obama began office, and Romeny has to come clean about that, and the President needs to come clean about what’s happened – and if you ask the question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” – the answer probably shouldn’t be very different from each other, but it will be.

[GL]: Yeah, and I think what we see, if you look at the agenda that the Republicans are laying out in the Congress right now, they’re taking on some though issues on economics and taxes – and I think that’s because they have taken your advice. They are trying to present themselves as the truth tellers in this, and we have hard decisions to make, and we have to do that. The Obama administration cannot let them have that field to themselves.

[WG]: OK. Real short answer: what is the next big headline about the campaigns?

[GL]: I think it’s going to be Romney’s choice for Vice President, is the next big thing.

[WG]: Greg Lebel is Assistant Professor of Political Management at George Washington University. I’m always grateful that he brings so many years of experience working inside presidential campaigns to our conversations on State of Belief Radio. I hope you can tell that it’s always enjoyable to have him here; we’re talking about important matters, and he gives us a wonderful perspective on them. Greg, thanks so much for taking the time again to be with us on State of Belief Radio.

[GL]: Thanks. I look forward to seeing you again.

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State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.

Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.

Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.

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The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.

While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.

Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.

Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.


 

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