They're like the embarrassing little brother who's managed to save all his paper-route money and offers it to you just when you need that money most but only if you'll pledge your eternal servitude in front of the most popular kids in school. Such is the scenario faced by George W. Bush as he contemplates the prospect of reconciling his vague brand of "compassionate conservatism" with the very definite views of the Christian Coalition, which on Sunday threw its support behind Bush and threatened to pull their votes from the GOP if John McCain were elected the party's nominee. While this would appear to be a welcome endorsement for Bush especially in conservative South Carolina, where Bush and McCain are engaged in a neck-and-neck race for this Saturday's Republican presidential primary it leaves him in a tricky position. He risks being seen as too cozy with Pat Robertson's ultra-conservative organization when he knows the coalition's positions on abortion and other hot-button social issues are unlikely to fly with many of the voters he needs to get elected come November.
Though Robertson's group bears little resemblance to the political powerhouse it was in the 1980s, it is still treated with some reverence in staunchly conservative South Carolina. And possibly in response to their diminished circumstances "At this point, Pat Robertson is on the outskirts of influence," says TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson the coalition is making a determined move to be heard, stamping its proverbial foot and demanding attention from the GOP candidates. So Bush is left still dealing with a quandary that first surfaced during January's Iowa caucus, when he found himself pushed into conservative positions on issues like abortion in order to attract right-wing votes. Of course, his burden in this regard has eased somewhat with the withdrawal of conservatives Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer (though Alan Keyes is still there to draw some votes). In this instance, though, it is a hurdle that's even more aggravating to jump when he knows that the threatened withdrawal of Christian Coalition support in the general election is an empty one in his fervor, Robertson failed to explain where that support would be directed instead; short of boycotting the political process altogether, Christian conservatives won't have much choice beyond the GOP nominee.