Roy Moore’s Extreme Political Party Hopes to Swing the Presidential Election

Can the nation's most extreme political party swing the presidential election?

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. -- For a few tantalizing months last winter and spring, the wildest dreams of Al Franken liberals bore a surprising resemblance to those of Pat Buchanan conservatives. Strangely enough, the main character in their common fantasy was one of the country's most divisive politicians: Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

When the judge was booted out of office in August 2003 for defying a federal court order to remove his 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, hundreds of fundamentalist and neo-Confederate supporters rallied around him, chanting, "Roy Moore for president!" That far-fetched notion was mostly forgotten until last November, when The Associated Press ran a story headlined "Constitution Party wants Moore to run for president."

The details were sketchy, aside from the fact that the national chairman of the staunchly anti-government, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigrant third party — the only political entity listed as a "Patriot" group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — had approached Moore about quitting the GOP and mounting an anti-Bush candidacy.

But in no time flat, "Draft Moore" petitions were circulating on the Internet, "Moore in 2004" merchandise was on sale, and liberal and right-wing pundits were preaching the good news to their respective choirs.

Their motivations were drastically different, of course. The extreme right was furious with Bush for invading Iraq, holding a Ramadan service in the White House, proposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, appointing "sodomites" to federal posts, running up the national debt, and allowing the assault-weapons ban to stand.

Since the early days of Bush's term, extremists like Chuck Baldwin, an evangelical pastor and talk-show host from Pensacola, Fla., had been urging their fellow travelers to "draw your line in the sand" and stop voting like sheep for the Republicans.

Because Bush had proven a "sellout," Baldwin said, it was time to teach the GOP a lesson. Judge Moore, "truly an American hero and statesman of the highest order," was just the man to do it.

Moore's cheerleaders at left-leaning magazines like The Nation and Slate saw his candidacy as an antidote to the Democrats' own third-party threat, Ralph Nader. "Say it loud and say it proud: Roy Moore for president," cheered liberal columnist Diane Roberts in the St. Petersburg Times.

"[W]hile he might seem like just another Bible-brandishing freak from the state that gave us George Wallace ... he may also be the answer to the Democrats' prayers."

How perfect could it get? Moore and the Constitution Party looked like a match made in heaven, with their mutual disgust for abortion and the "homosexual agenda," and their mutual desire to make the U.S. a Bible-based republic.

True, the Constitution Party is small, with only 340,000 registered voters nationwide, but that does make it the nation's biggest third party. Considering the dismal track record of American third parties, it's also one of the longest-lasting, having existed in one form or another since Wallace's wildly successful third-party effort in 1968 (see related interview, Crashing the Parties).

Ever since the remains of Wallace's American Independent Party merged with other far-right entities to form the party that was initially known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party in 1992, it had been trying to lure another big-name presidential candidate to raise its profile — the key to making a third party viable. Buchanan, among others, had played footsie with the Constitution Party in recent elections, only to pull back at the last minute. Now the party had another savior in its sights.

Moore did his part to fan the flames. Traveling the country last winter and spring, addressing audiences of adoring fundamentalists for $10,000 a pop, he spoke of "a great awakening coming" — hint, hint. At least half a dozen of his talks were in front of Constitution Party gatherings. He told listeners that "the major political parties in this country are not concentrating on the Constitution." And he made it clear he would not endorse a Democrat or Republican.

"As somebody from our state, George Wallace, once said, 'There's not a dime's worth of difference between them,'" he told the Seattle Times in May. "I think the people need a choice."

A few weeks later, Moore dashed the dreams of his peculiar coalition. Shortly before the Constitution Party's national convention, the ex-judge announced that he would take his quixotic quest for reinstatement — already rejected by Alabama state courts — to the U.S. Supreme Court. Moore said his appeal, due in early August, would not leave him enough time to campaign.

Others speculated that his reasons were political; the Alabama GOP had struck a local candidate off the Republican primary ballot after she spoke highly of the Constitution Party, and the presidential bid might have wrecked Moore's prospects of running as a Republican for Alabama governor in 2006.

Whatever Moore's reasons, the death of his candidacy killed mainstream media interest in the Constitution Party. But the pundits might have tuned out too soon. Even without a big-name candidate topping its ticket, America's most extreme political party still has a shot at being the quiet assassin of Bush's re-election effort.

Voting for 'Righteousness'
Fresh from being spurned at the altar by another attractive bridegroom, the Constitution Party faithful came to their late-June convention in a spirit of defiant optimism. "We want to vote for righteousness," declared the Rev. Michael Chastain in the convention-opening prayer, greeted by a chorus of amens from 50 state delegations spread out around a big, shabby convention hall in Valley Forge, Pa.

The three-day gathering brought plenty of assurances that the party's default presidential candidate, home-schooling attorney Michael Peroutka of Maryland, would give Americans a golden opportunity to vote for righteousness. But the main order of business was psyching up the troops and rehearsing the lines they'd use to sway disgruntled Republicans into the fold this fall.

"There's been a vacuum created by both major parties going in the same direction," said party chairman Jim Clymer, standing in front of the main stage prop, a huge replica of the Declaration of Independence. "Republicans are liberals with fascist leanings," Clymer quipped, "and Democrats are liberals with socialist leanings."

Clymer's remarks led off a parade of historical re-enactors (Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Wayne) and right-wing luminaries (including 2000 Reform Party vice-presidential candidate Ezola Foster and Larry Pratt, head of the radical Gun Owners of America) who bashed Bush and proclaimed their own independence from the GOP.

"We're not one nation under God — we're one nation under God's wrath," said John Lofton, a former GOP operative who's now earning $800 a week running Peroutka for President's press operations. His sentiment was seconded by Michael Hill, president of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South.

Given the country's love for illegals, "sodomites" and reckless empire-building, Hill demanded, "Why should God bless America?"

Certainly not with Bush as president, said Doug Phillips, head of the archconservative Vision Forum. "There is one thing worse than having a secular humanist in the White House," he said. "Having a Christian humanist is worse!" Phillips' father, Constitution Party founder (and former aide to President Nixon) Howard Phillips, trotted out a list of more than 200 ways Bush has "betrayed" conservatives with his "Great Society Liberalism."

However puzzling such disaffection might sound to mainstream Americans, the Constitutionalists are hardly alone. Right-wing Web sites swarm with anti-Bush headlines The Nation would be hard-pressed to match.

Whistleblower magazine, an archconservative monthly, published a special issue in June that proclaimed a "Revolt on the Right," calling it "one of the most under-reported but pivotal stories of this election season. Untold numbers of American Christians, conservatives, Republicans, libertarians, constitutionalists and others on the right are torn over how to vote in this November's election." When Buchanan delivered his anti-Bush screed, Where the Right Went Wrong, in August, that "untold number" undoubtedly multiplied.

Which means that Howard Phillips wasn't exaggerating when he assured the folks in Valley Forge that even without Roy Moore, "We have extraordinary possibilities this year." Partly, Phillips noted, that's because "there's no competition on the conservative side."

Not on the extremist side, anyway. Unlike recent elections, there will be no Buchanan, no Alan Keyes, no Gary Bauer and no Pat Robertson echoing the hard Christian Right message on the campaign trail.

Can the Constitution Party capitalize? Maybe so, say a surprising number of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-gay and neo-Confederate groups who have endorsed Peroutka. Probably not, says Micah Sifry, author of Spoiling for a Fight: Third Parties in America. "Purism holds a party together," he says, "but keeps it small."

The Constitutionalists may not need a big-tent approach to do some damage this year. Just ask Karl Rove, Bush's political guru, who told the American Enterprise Institute in 2001 that his man almost lost the 2000 election because 4 million Christian conservatives stayed home on Election Day.

With Bush even less appealing to those voters in 2004, The Associated Press noted in June, "Even a handful of defections in key states could tip the balance."

Without a big-name candidate like Buchanan or Moore, the Constitution Party can't hope to mount a serious nationwide challenge. But it's poised to make a serious splash in key "battleground" states — two of the biggest, in fact.