Rick Warren announced the other day that he was canceling a planned forum with President Obama and Mitt Romney, similar to the one he hosted with Obama and McCain in 2008. His reason: The campaign was too mean and divisive and he didn’t want to be a part of it. But Amy Sullivan points out that the event was never actually scheduled and neither candidate had agreed to show up:
Yesterday, Warren declared that he was cancelling this year’s candidate forum because the presidential campaign had become too uncivil. It was a ridiculous excuse and a transparent attempt to save face. In reality, there was no event to cancel.
The first sign that Warren has misjudged his influence should have been the fact that he never had a firm date for his forum. In the July conference call with reporters to announce his plans, Warren said that he still needed to finalize an exact date but was looking at the week of August 20. He also noted that while he had held favorable conversations with both campaigns, neither candidate had yet agreed to attend. By comparison, Warren only unveiled plans for the 2008 forum after weeks of intense negotiations with both sides and after getting commitments from both campaigns to participate. He also announced the scheduled date for the event.
Despite Warren’s efforts to make it seem as if he was selflessly cancelling an appearance with both presidential candidates in order to avoid contributing to a toxic political climate, the evidence strongly suggests that there wasn’t any Saddleback forum this time to cancel. The Associated Press reported this morning that neither campaign was planning on attending any event at Saddleback. Saddleback’s own events calendar does not list any candidate forum. (And lest you think a listing was removed when the forum was “cancelled,” the calendar does note that the cross-training fitness class originally scheduled for today has been cancelled.)
According to a Fox News blog, “Romney campaign officials say the campaign had not accepted the invitation nor put it on any schedule. At the time the proposed Warren forum was first publicized, the Romney camp said it was not planning to attend.” There is also no evidence that the church held a public lottery for tickets to the forum, as Warren originally said in July.
I have no doubt that somebody in Warren’s camp had a conversation with staff in the Obama and Romney campaigns at some point. But in the absence of an agreement, he appears to have simply broadcast his plans for a repeat performance of the 2008 event and expected that the candidates would come to him. It must have been quite the ego blow, then, to learn that Romney and Obama had reached an agreement to talk about matters of faith and religion in another forum—separate interviews with a little-known church quarterly, Cathedral Age, which is the official publication of the Washington National Cathedral. The interviews were made public yesterday, just hours before Warren pulled the plug on his own event.
CNN confirms all of this:
But sources close to President Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s political campaigns challenged that explanation, saying the event was canceled because of a lack of interest from the respective campaigns.
“As I understand it, Pastor Warren received tepid responses from both camps well before the supposed ‘cancellation,'” said a senior Democratic strategist in contact with the Obama campaign.
“It appears that the event was canceled because neither the Romney nor Obama campaigns thought it was in their interest to do,” the strategist continued, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate political matter.
A source close to the Romney campaign said that the former Massachusetts governor hadn’t planned on attending Warren’s event: “We were never going, ever. We offered to do a video.”
I think it was Jesus who said blessed are they who invent a fake rationale to cover up one’s diminishing influence and importance.