Via Ambinder, Walter Shapiro reports:

A quick canvass of South Carolina political experts produced the tentative conclusion that Robertson’s blessing will register only at the margins, if at all. “The Christian right is always locally autonomous, and they don’t take direction from their presumed leaders. I don’t think this will signal a mass stampede by the evangelicals to Giuliani,” said Danielle Vinson, a political science professor at Furman University.

Even more skeptical was David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University, also a Republican political consultant. “Pat Robertson roared into the state in 1988 after he finished second in the Iowa caucuses, and everybody thought that the Christian Coalition would deliver for him,” Woodard recalled. “Instead George H.W. Bush thrashed him.”

If that’s true for South Carolina, how much more is it true for Iowa? 

Shapiro also reminds us of the limited power of endorsements:

It is embarrassing to recall how many otherwise sensible reporters proclaimed the 2004 Democratic nomination fight all but over as soon as Al Gore embraced Howard Dean.

What the Robertson-Giuliani and also the Weyrich-Romney stories tell us is that some of the social conservative leaders are opting for those candidates who, as the Values Voters forum showed us, do not win over the social conservative crowd.  Among those present at the forum, Huckabee was the overwhelming favourite, while his fiscal heresies have made him unacceptable to movement leaders.  This means that “values voters” seem less likely to follow the lead of their putative spokesmen, especially when the latter make truly puzzling (Weyrich) or downright bizarre (Robertson) selections.  It’s not as if these leaders are ward bosses who can turn out their people for a candidate en masse.  Indeed, the average social conservative has to be thinking long and hard about what exactly following the guidance and advice of many of these leaders has yielded and finally concluding: not much.

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