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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

December 26: GOP Presidential Field Closer to Christian Right Than Ever

One of the things both progressives and MSM types consistently get wrong is the tendency to dismiss, ignore, or underestimate the Christian Right as a factor in Republican politics. We can expect this bad habit to reemerge in connection with the 2016 presidential contest, which is already being billed as an Establishment Versus Tea Party battle where “social issues” won’t be prominent. But you can make the argument, as I did at TPMCafe this week, that the emerging GOP presidential field has more systemic links to the Christian Right than we’ve ever seen:

At least four frequently-mentioned GOP presidential proto-candidates have deep and intimate Christian Right ties. There’s former Gov. Mike Huckabee, of course, a Southern Baptist minister whose 2008 campaign almost entirely relied on conservative evangelical voters. His successor as the winner of the Iowa Caucuses, Rick Santorum, is a Catholic traditionalist who also appealed on moral and grounds to conservative evangelicals, and on occasion hinted that mainline Protestantism had been captured by Satan. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has long enjoyed close relationships with crypto-dominionists and radical self-styled Christian Zionists. And fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz frequently deploys as his warm-up act his father Rafael Cruz, a fiery conservative evangelical minister who believes Christians must “take back society” from “the progressives” who are responsible for “the blood of 57 million babies…crying out to God, just like the blood of Abel cried out to God.” Christian Right activists would have every reason to treat all four of these gentlemen as beyond the need for vetting, so thoroughly have they incorporated the requisite world view.
But there are other candidates who can be expected to compete with these claims of Christian warriorhood. Gov. Bobby Jindal has beaten the “religious freedom” drum more loudly than just about any other public figure in the debate surrounding the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case, and his controversial school voucher program in Louisiana seems designed to shovel public money towards religious schools with a minimum of oversight. Gov. Mike Pence has been one of several proto-candidates cozying up to David Lane, a Christian Right impresario who is especially active in organizing clerical audiences for would-be presidents in Iowa. Gov. Scott Walker is a conservative evangelical who often speaks of carrying out his anti-union, pro-corporate agenda on instructions from the Almighty. Sen. Marco Rubio is (like Jindal) another traditionalist Catholic who likes to attend conservative evangelical churches, and has gone out of his way to embrace not only the Christian Right’s issue agenda but its more fundamental denial of church-state separation.
Rand Paul and his father have a longstanding connection to the openly theocratic U.S. Constitutional Party, and are especially close to Christian home-schoolers. Ben Carson was recently the keynote speaker at a fundraising event for The Family Leader, Iowa’s premier Christian Right group; he’s notorious for embracing comparisons of America to Nazi Germany, a particularly strong habit among antichoice activists. And even Establishment favorite Jeb Bush, lest we forget, was the politician who touched off the Terri Schiavo hysteria in 2003 by intervening in a family’s end-of-life decisions.
It is entirely possible that Christian Right activists will fatally split among different candidates, just as they did in 2008 and 2012 (George W. Bush was the last to unite the various tribes of conservative Christian political warriors, in 2000 and 2004). Corresponding splits among “Establishment” candidates, or the successful launching of a “crossover” candidacy (which Bush, Pence, Rubio or Walker might be able to pull off), could make that possibility matter less.
But there’s little risk of a sworn enemy of the Christian Right winning the nomination. Every “mentioned” GOP candidate for 2016 favors making abortions illegal again, and if there are any who dissent from the latter-day conservative litmus-test position defining “religious freedom” as justifying defiance of anti-discrimination laws, they have been very quiet about it.

Maybe some day we’ll learn not to issue premature obituaries for the Christian Right. This would be a very good time to stop.

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