Laurie Goodstein, the Times' religion reporter who is ever alert for signs of a crackup on the religious right, thinks she may have found it with the split among some conservative Christians over the acceptability of Republican presidential candidate (and pro-choice advocate) Rudy Giuliani.
On three separate occasions in her Sunday Week in Review piece, "For a Trusty Voting Bloc, a Faith Shaken," Goodstein found the religious right in a state of either "alarm" or "panic," along with other unflattering terminology sure to delight the Times' liberal readership.
"After the 2004 elections, religious conservatives were riding high. Newly anointed by pundits as 'values voters' - a more flattering label than 'religious right' - they claimed credit for propelling George W. Bush to two terms in the White House. Even in wartime, they had managed to fixate the nation on their pet issues: opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.
"Now with the 2008 race taking shape, religious conservatives say they sense they have taken a tumble. Their issues are no longer at the forefront, and their leaders have failed so far to coalesce around a candidate, as they did around Mr. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
"What unites them right now is their dismay - even panic - at the idea of Rudolph W. Giuliani as the Republican nominee, because of his support for abortion rights and gay rights, as well as what they regard as a troubling history of marital infidelity. But what to do about it is where they again diverge, with some religious conservatives last week threatening to bolt to a third party if Mr. Giuliani gets the nomination, and others arguing that this is the sure road to defeat."
"Religious conservatives were alarmed last month when none of the Republican front-runners showed up for the Values Voter Debate Straw Poll in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 40 groups, some of them major organizations known for their capacity to mobilize voters, had put together the event. Questions were directed even at the no-show candidates, and many of those questions were angry."
"The religious right may still try to anoint a Republican candidate, get behind him and push. Some leaders said in interviews that they were waiting to see how the Republican candidates performed at a conference of the Family Research Council, a religious conservative group in Washington, later this month. All of the Republicans, except Mr. Giuliani, have agreed to make a pitch to that group.
"The panic that has gripped the leadership of the religious right is over how the only candidate who doesn't stand with them on abortion and has barely bothered to court them can prevail; Mr. Giuliani is even viewed favorably in polls among voters who identify themselves as born-again Christians."