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Faith, Freedom, and Pandering

<p>It didn't generate much attention, but disgraced Republican lobbyist Ralph Reed hosted a pretty big religious right gathering over the

It didn't generate much attention, but disgraced Republican lobbyist Ralph Reed hosted a pretty big religious right gathering over the weekend, through his Faith & Freedom Coalition. Mitt Romney wasn't there in person -- he was busy avoiding critics on his bus tour -- but he appeared via video, and was introduced by his son, Josh, who did appear at the event.

There are a few angles to this to consider. The first is the fact that Romney still feels the need to pander to the religious right -- the former governor has spent years telling Christian conservatives what they want to hear, but now that he's the GOP nominee, it's tempting to think Romney might start trying to broaden his appeal. Apparently, the Republican does not yet feel as if he's locked up the movement's support.

The second is what Romney ended up actually saying. Attendees heard the GOP candidate once again condemn President Obama's position on contraception access, before passing along an anecdote from none other than Rick Santorum.

For those of you who can't watch clips online, Romney noted a Brookings study that Santorum loves, examining the best predictors of happiness and financial success.

"[T]hree criteria were really quite amazing. Number one was whether someone had the chance to be married. Did they become married? Number two was whether they graduated from high school and number three was whether they ever got a job, ever one time took a job if they did those three things, the likelihood of them falling into poverty was only 2 percent -- 2 percent. On the other hand, if they missed those three things, the likelihood of them falling into poverty was 76 percent, three-quarters of our people. And so, if you want to fight poverty, family is one of the elements that's most critical."

I don't imagine Romney quoting Santorum to this crowd was an accident. For that matter, it was interesting to hear the candidate talk about giving people a "chance to be married," which is a "chance" Romney wants to deny to same-sex couples, presumably condemning them to a life of poverty.

And finally, there's one last question: since when did GOP leaders agree to let Ralph Reed out of the penalty box?

Reed, of course, became a disgraced lobbyist caught up in the Abramoff scandal, who's now managed to position himself again as a right-wing GOP powerhouse, able to get Romney to pander to him and his group. How'd Reed pull that off?

Well, Reed waited. He simply allowed time to elapse, confident that Republican officials, conservative activists, and the media would simply forget about his scandals and remember his organizing successes.

This has worked remarkably well, but there's still value in remembering his sleazy misdeeds. Remember this one, from June 2006?

Yet another delightful characterization of Ralph Reed, courtesy of today's McCain report on the Abramoff scandal. This one comes courtesy of Jack Abramoff himself, via his discussion with Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative for the Tigua tribe in Texas.Let's pick up the report on page 148. Schwartz was evaluating whether the tribe should hire Abramoff as its lobbyist: To Schwartz, Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied "as far as the cash goes."

Or, how about this one?

Ralph Reed, email to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 1998: "Hey, now that I'm done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts."

Or this?

E-mails and testimony before McCain's panel showed that Reed, who once branded gambling a "cancer" on society, reaped millions of dollars in tribal casino proceeds that Abramoff secretly routed to him through various non-profit front groups. Abramoff, a lobbyist for the tribes, paid Reed to whip up "grassroots" Christian opposition to prevent rival tribes from opening casinos.

All of this, apparently, is now considered little more than water under the bridge -- Romney has, as far as I can tell, faced no questions about associating with this scandal-plagued former lobbyist.