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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Degrees of Religious Influence

The possibility of another Mitt Romney run has generated a new round of speculation about the relevance of presidential candidates’ religious views, particularly since Mitt’s boosters say he will not hide that particular light under a bushel in 2016. But I’d say that in the Republican field, there are quite a few other candidates whose opinions on how their faith affects their politics could use some more scrutiny. I went down that perilous road today at the Washington Monthly:

[T]here are proto-candidates who say with some credibility that their religion has a big impact on their political views and/or their sense of mission, including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich. Ben Carson, like Mitt Romney, belongs to a church most Americans would consider exotic, the Seventh Day Adventists, and he talks a lot about faith. Carly Fiorina doesn’t go to church a lot, but says she used to read a lot of St. Thomas Aquinas. John Bolton, a member of the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church, doesn’t much mention it. And I’d say it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton is a reasonably serious Methodist.
But then you have some other candidates who have more or less made it clear they view themselves (sincerely or not) as spiritual warriors who are in politics in no small part to vindicate a faith threatened by unbelievers and false believers. They would include Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker, a conservative evangelical who’s said on occasion that he’s on a divine mission, is a borderline case; we’ll see how he behaves among the very explicitly theocratic conservative clergy and laity of Iowa in the months just ahead. And then there’s Bobby Jindal, the self-described “evangelical Catholic” who seems to want to make his campaign a religious crusade, but doesn’t appear to know the words or the music to that particular hymn.
The point here is that the instinctive antipathy towards talking about the religion of political candidates goes from being a small to a big mistake when said candidates are explicitly making religious appeals, not just in the generic “God Bless America” sense but by telling certain kinds of believers they’d better get on board the bandwagon or they’ll wind up nailed to a cross, which is more or less what Mike Huckabee’s been saying lately. Personally, Mitt Romney’s religion is pretty far down my list of concerns.

As a matter of fact, it bugs me that some of the same candidates we are talking about here–Huckabee, Perry, Cruz and Jindal–have an especially close relationship with the Christian Right group the American Family Association, which today sought to disassociate itself from its longtime mouthpiece Bryan Fischer because his long history of racist and homophobic commentary was endangering an AFA-financed trip to Israel for a large number of RNC members. No, this is not a good time to declare discussion of presidential candidates’ religious opinions off-limits–unless they’re willing to stop invoking divine favor themselves.

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