James Dobson and other social conservatives have been defending the view that they should vote for a third-party candidate or not vote if the two major party candidates for president are Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. I've been arguing over the course of the last several months (e.g. here, here, here, and here) that this argument assumes the ridiculous premise that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not morally worse on social conservative assumptions than a Giuliani presidency. I thought that point should make a nice reductio ad absurdum argument against Dobson, since it would lead to him accepting a ridiculous claim about the relative value of Giuliani and Clinton presidencies according to pro-life principles.
Keith DeRose left a link in the comments on one of those posts to a post containing video from Dobson's recent appearance on Hannity and Colmes. At the very end of the video, Dobson surprisingly bites the bullet on this. He actually goes as far as claiming that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be far better than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, on socially-conservative, pro-life principles. I guess this is the way things go, then. When there's very little you can say to defend an outrageous view, all that's left is to deny an obvious premise of the argument. Dobson has chosen to take that path.
His claim is that the pro-life movement and social conservatism in general would be ended in this country if the party that has traditionally given the time of day to social conservatism were to nominate a candidate who is not sufficiently pro-life. His claim is that he's got longer-term considerations in mind than those who argue that a Giuliani presidency would be at least enough better than a Hillary Clinton presidency on these issues to be worth trying to elect him over her.
I'm not remotely convinced. Parties often nominate outliers in terms of their views with respect to the party's traditional views. Sometimes those candidates win in the general election. Sometimes those views become the dominant view of the party, as happened when Ronald Reagan transformed the Republican party away from what it had been in the Nixon and Ford years. Most of the time oddball views that are idiosyncratic to a president do not end the party's dominant view on that issue, as is very clearly evidenced by conservatives' responses to President Bush's views on immigration and his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on grounds that did not convince judicial conservatives of her qualifications. On those matters, he is an outlier in the party. Had John McCain become president in 2000, his views on campaign fincance would surely have had same status, with conservatives largely rejecting them.
So I'm just not convinced that having four or eight years of a moderate pro-choicer in office representing the GOP means the GOP ceases to be a pro-life party or that it means the pro-life movement is dead. That just doesn't follow. Strong activism will continue even if the president's own party will be going against the president, as it has with this president on a number of occasions. So I wouldn't see why it should be a problem for a pro-life social conservative to vote for pro-choicers like Giuliani or Fred Thompson against Hillary Clinton if they were to get the nomination, because I think the differences between them and her are significant even on these issues (never mind on all the others).
Update: Justin Taylor has a nice discussion of this issue that I was going to link to at some point but forgot to as I was writing this.