Somebody needs to say it, so I will. The Republican party is in serious trouble because one of its main constituencies — religious social conservatives — is fractured.
When I say “fractured,” I am not saying that “the Christian Right is dead.” Clearly, the ranks of religious social conservatives in America are alive and vibrant. Yet this category of the American electorate lacks for leadership, and many Americans who typically fit this constituency are confused and dismayed by the current political milieu.
You think I’m wrong? Consider this chaotic combination of developments from just the past few months:
Pat Robertson endorsed the most socially liberal Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giulianai last week.
Yet six months ago Dr. James Dobson, the most politically influential Evangelical, vowed that he would “never” support the Giuliani candidacy.
Senator and social conservative Sam Brownback withdrew from the race for the White House last month, and then last week endorsed Senator John McCain’s candidacy.
Yet Dobson said “no way” to a McCain candidacy eleven months ago.
Don Wildmon, head of the Evangelical Christian-based “American Family Association” and operator of a Christian media network, has endorsed the candidacy of Mike Huckabee.
Yet Gary Bauer of the “American Values” organization has hinted that Huckabee’s positions on foreign policy and immigration are troublesome.
Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council have both spoken highly of candidate Fred Thompson.
Yet Fred Thompson is the one presidential candidate who earlier this month revealed to a Fox Newschanel reporter that he doesn’t even believe that he will win his own race.
And when Reverend Leith Anderson, the current President of the National Association of Evangelicals, was recently contacted by one of the Republican presidential candidates requesting a meeting, Anderson was ambivalent, and denied the request. Why? Because he had “a wedding or funeral” to do that day (he says he doesn’t remember which it was).
Perhaps most troubling in these circles is the lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Romney is by any measure the most well-funded and most viable candidate to be regarded as “socially conservative.” While speaking at last month’s “Values Voters Summit,” Romney’s proposals hit all the key issues that religious social conservative leaders claim that they care about — he vowed a government that encourages marriage rather than penalizing it; an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of life; and he even proposed a federal tax credit for home schooling parents.
Romney could be an obvious winner for religious social conservatives. Yet the most influential activists have remained publicly silent on Romney’s campaign, choosing instead to be held hostage to an anti-Mormon bias among some of their Evangelical financial supporters.
This present turmoil raises some important questions. First, what is the religious social conservative movement about any longer?
Loosely described in abbreviated form as the “pro-family movement,” it purports to stand for a set of policy objectives built on specific “moral values.” Yet if a person like Romney can’t be embraced by the movement’s most powerful leaders, then it would appear that, for them anyway, theology is their first concern. Public policy is now in the back seat.
Further, what are the public policy issues that religious social conservatives really care about today, anyway?
In the aftermath of the 60’s and 70’s sexual revolution and the Roe versus Wade court decision, the religious social conservative movement emerged focusing primarily on abortion, and concerns about the institutions of marriage and family.
Yet, among today’s religious social conservatives, many Evangelicals, especially younger ones, seem concerned about a wider range of issues than the leaders of the “pro-family” movement seem to be. While marriage and family are still strong priorities for Evangelicals, so also are the issues of community development, war and peace, poverty, national security, fiscal responsibility, racial reconciliation, economics, and the environment.
Likewise, today’s Evangelicals prefer a more welcoming and engaging attitude, rather than a judgmental tone directed at those with whom they disagree, and are more inclined towards dialog and consensus building with people who don’t share their theological beliefs.
So, while there seems to be no adequate presidential candidate for the “pro family” leaders, there is no guarantee that an increasingly diverse Evangelical America will remain predominantly in the Republican fold as it has been.
Consider this: Who is prepared to offer social religious conservatives a faith-based view of the environment to counter the left’s obsessive ecocentrism? Who is prepared to offer a moral defense of the free market economy, to counter Hillary’s socialized health care, and her punishing tax hikes on those she deems “wealthy?” And who will make the case that, despite his support of abortion, all of America is better off with a tough, law-and-order President Giulianai (should he be the nominee), rather than an equivocating, U.N. – oriented President Hillary?
Religious social conservatives are alive and well. But unless the leadership vacuum is filled, we will likely have another Clinton presidency.