As leaders on the Christian right talk about the idea of backing a third-party candidate if the GOP presidential nominee is a pro-choice Republican like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain is busy putting on a clinic on the risk of religious pandering.
McCain once lumped Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan together as "agents of intolerance" and said that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party "should be defined by pandering" to them.
But that was seven long straight-talkin' years ago. Now McCain says "the No. 1 issue people should make [in the] selection of the president of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo-Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'"
His comments came in an interview with Beliefnet, and he was just getting started. McCain went on to say that while he admires "the Islam," he doesn't much like the idea of having a Muslim president. "No, I have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would -- I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead."
Asked if he believes that the Constitution "established the United States of America as a Christian nation," McCain said he "would probably have to say yes." "But I say that in the broadest sense," he explained. "The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, 'I only welcome Christians.' We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles."
Did we say he was just getting started? McCain told Beliefnet that he has been talking with his pastor about the idea of undergoing a full-immersion baptism and hinted that he might do so once the presidential campaign is over. Why not sooner? "I am afraid it might appear as if I was doing something that I otherwise wouldn't do."
Now McCain is backpedaling -- but only on the part about a Muslim president. As Steve Benen notes, there's an asterisk in the Beliefnet transcript next to the part where McCain says he's not keen on the idea. The reason: "McCain contacted Beliefnet after the interview to clarify his remarks: 'I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values.'"