'2012 Republican primary mixed religion, politics'

Anti-Defamation League head tells 'Post' that primary was worst campaign in 20 years for separation of church, state.

April 12, 2012 01:16
3 minute read.
US Republican candidates

US Republican candidates 390. (photo credit: Reuters)


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BOSTON – This year’s Republican primary was the worst campaign in a generation when it came to mixing religion and politics, according to Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraman Foxman.

Foxman spoke to The Jerusalem Post the day after GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to claim victory. His other competitors, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, trail so substantially in delegates and states won that they are not considered serious contenders for the nomination.

“There’s a level of the role of religion, the hawking of religion we have not seen,” Foxman said Wednesday. “It’s the worst that we’ve ever witnessed in the last 20 years.”

Foxman named Santorum as the candidate who “pushed the envelope the furthest” on religion during the campaign, and said that he expected the rhetoric and attention to religious tropes to diminish now that Santorum is out of the race.

But he added, “I don’t think it’s over. It’s going to take on a different role, but it’s not over.”

Santorum himself promised Tuesday to press on with his vision even as he announced he was ending his campaign.

“While this presidential race is over for me and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” he said from the historic Civil War town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “This game is a long, long, long way from over. We’re going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama.”

Santorum spoke to Romney on Tuesday but did not endorse him. Romney will be seeking his backing to help him shore up support from evangelicals and other conservative constituencies who have preferred Santorum.

“Senator Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran. He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation,” Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said in a statement released Tuesday.

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Later, Romney told an audience at a Delaware campaign stop that he also saw Santorum remaining an important player in the political arena.

“He will continue to have a major role in the Republican party, and I look forward to his work in helping ensure victories for Republicans across the country in November,” Romney said.

Santorum made his decision after spending the Easter holiday with his family.

His young daughter, Bella, was hospitalized over the weekend due to her rare genetic disorder, a condition he noted while delivering his remarks Tuesday.

Santorum’s exit from the campaign also comes two weeks before a crucial Pennsylvania primary vote. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who lost his last reelection bid, had been counting on a win in his home state, but had been losing ground in polls there. A loss in the crucial swing state would have not only undercut his prospects in this year’s race, but could also hurt him should he decide to run again in 2016.

Foxman described several of the candidates – not just Santorum – as crossing the line from talking about the role of faith in shaping their lives and values to actively seeking votes on the basis of their Christian beliefs.

Romney, though, is “moderate” on the issue of religion, according to Foxman. “He hasn’t used it or abused it.”

That could be in part because of the challenge that Romney himself faces as a Mormon, a faith that some Americans disparage. If he wins the Republican race, he would be the first Mormon candidate for president from either of the two major parties.

Foxman said that Obama, too, would need to be careful of the line between church and state, saying that he was disappointed by the president’s endorsement of funding for faith-based groups early in his term.

Foxman pointed out that ultimately those candidates who pushed faith the most during the GOP campaign weren’t successful.

But, he said, “We are a religious country, so politicians know and understand that there’s this feeling out there for them to play to.”

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