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Published: Monday, 11/26/2007

Rudy and the right wing

CHRISTIAN conservative leaders are in a quandary. Trying to find a balance between principle and politics without selling their soul is the central challenge in endorsing one of the GOP candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination next year. But some prominent television evangelists don't even try.

In a surprise endorsement of Rudy Giuliani that left some conservatives speechless, Pat Robertson called the former New York mayor - a twice-divorced supporter of abortion and gay rights - "an acceptable" Republican "who can win the general election."

That flapping sound we're hearing must be the Christian broadcaster's previously enunciated moral principles flying out the stained-glass window on angels' wings.

What's really up in the air here, though, is a gamble that Mr. Giuliani has the best chance among the GOP candidates to defeat Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton. That's a political calculation, one intended to raise Mr. Robertson's stature in the Christian conservative movement from loose cannon to influential player.

This is the same guy who once suggested that American tolerance of abortion and homosexuality was to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, he says, "abortion is important but it's only one issue." That's quite an epiphany for someone known for his uncompromising views.

All of a sudden Mr. Robertson is standing polar opposite to the social conservative movement and declaring that the man he once sued over New York's recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships is his new best friend.

For Mr. Giuliani, the endorsement is an invaluable opening to reach large evangelical audiences through the Christian Broadcasting Network, where Rudy's social liberalism is downplayed to emphasize his response to the terrorist attacks.

Evangelicals who dismiss the unlikely alliance as an inexplicable stunt have cast their endorsements with conservative politicians with beliefs closer to their own on God, gays, and guns.

The trouble is that no one Republican running for president is someone they all can unite behind or who has a chance of being elected. So what's a divided evangelical community to do?

Maybe they should all join The 700 Club. It's the TV show on which Mr. Robertson has deftly demonstrated remarkable faith that politics and religion can mix, provided the boundaries of opportunity are stretched far enough.

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