SALT LAKE CITY- Bob Fischer, a furniture store owner from Sioux Falls, S.D., opened the Saturday meeting on Sept. 29 by saying he was a "nobody, just a business guy. My heroes are in this room."
Fischer's "heroes" in the elegant, crowded room on the third floor of the Grand American Hotel in Salt Lake City included about 40 conservative Christian leaders. Among them were Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. A speaker phone sat on a table in the middle of the room, allowing other activists, including former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer and third-party candidate Howard Phillips, to join the conversation.
Fischer was direct and to the point. He said the group was here to consider one question: If the Republican Party nominates a candidate for president who is pro-choice, should this group throw its support behind a third-party candidate?
Two hours later came the answer to that question: Yes.
Though the meeting was closed, Dobson said, "And I wouldn't mind if that got leaked."
It did. Within hours an account of the meeting was on websites, and by Sunday it was in the papers.
But are religious conservatives really ready to bolt from the two major parties, even given the pro-abortion stands of front-runners Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani? Though the vote among the activists in Salt Lake City was nearly unanimous, even many of those in the room said it's too early.
"The reason conservatives don't have the kind of influence in the party we want is because we are not willing to get in the trenches," said a Washington, D.C., activist who spoke at the meeting but did not give permission to be quoted. "We're talking about taking over the presidency, when we can't even take over our own county commissions and city councils."
Indeed, the logistics of mounting a third-party campaign in just a few months would be daunting. Early in the meeting, Fischer and historian and conservative activist Bill Federer made a brief presentation that concluded no third party had ever made a successful run at the White House. Jim Clymer, president of the Constitution Party, acknowledged that his own party, which has been at this for years, is not even on the ballot in many states.
If the cost of running a third-party candidate is great, the cost of tilting the election toward the Democrats, which a conservative third-party candidate would likely do, is even greater. On the Monday after the meeting, Gary Bauer wrote to his supporters: "It would break my heart if we ended up with two pro-abortion candidates. Nonetheless, I urged extreme caution to those attending this meeting. We should not forget that the Clinton presidency came about because a third-party effort divided conservative votes in 1992. The Clinton years were a disaster."
Bauer went on to say that "the one thing the pro-family movement would be very hard pressed to recover from is another Clinton presidency in 2009."
"Business guy" Bob Fischer, who otherwise gave each speaker only two minutes to have his say, turned to Dobson, who had interrupted a family vacation and driven six hours to be at the Salt Lake meeting, and said he could have all the time he wanted.
But for Dobson two minutes was more than enough. "The Republican Party simply must get the message that if they nominate a pro-abort candidate, we won't be with them."