Is the religious right, as a force in American politics, waning ? Look past the survey numbers. We are fast approaching the era of minority control.
The Koch brothers supply the money; the religious right (which has its own billionaire funders) brings the trained activist cadres, the boots on the ground. Leading the charge, for radical privatization and Christian supremacy is Ted Cruz, one of the few politicians (along with Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) admitted into the elite inner sanctum meetings of the Koch brother funding network.
I've seen a lot of mockery of Ted Cruz in recent days. But he has the backing of the Kochs and elite religious right leadership as well; in fact, Cruz grew up amidst the religious right leaders who gave America its culture wars.
Consider: back in 1999, Ted Cruz personally enabled George W. Bush secure the Republican presidential nomination by locking down the religious right vote. Cruz did this by winning for Bush the support of Cruz' personal friend Paul Weyrich, who had created much of the religious right's early infrastructure: the Moral Majority, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC.
Once in office, president Bush then diverted billions of dollars to the evangelical right's organizations and activists, through the Faith Based Initiative and foreign aid money as well. This greatly helped the movement which, through its chosen politicians in the GOP, is to this day kicking the secular left's ass.
Kicking ass ? Yes. Consider:
In 2010, and even more strongly in 2014, two electoral waves swept Republican candidates into office. The GOP now controls about 2/3 of state legislatures and 3/5 of governors seats. The result ? Unions smashed; public education gutted; anti-reproductive rights laws passed; the gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republican candidates. Not to mention Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
In the grand scheme, in most arenas but LGBT rights and (for the time being) health care, Democrats and the left are losing. Meanwhile, in a schadenfreude that verges on psychosis, many choose to exult in the slow demographic decline of white conservative evangelicals.
But the religious right is gaining among minority demographics (among African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, even native Hawaiians); and the 2014 GOP wave that took 69 out of 99 state legislatures wasn't dominated by white male candidates. Reported the New York Times, "Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities". In short, The Republican Diversity Program... Is Working.
And regardless, the ability of small, determined, well organized groups to destroy democracy and establish minority control is demonstrated by the historical record of 20th Century revolutionary communist and fascist movements alike.
Princes of the religious right, from National Prayer Breakfast consigliere Doug Coe to megachurch pastor and Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, are prone to celebrating the fanatical dedication of the followers of Hitler, Lenin, and Mao.
I have been collecting examples of this for years, to demonstrate the pattern. Such leaders, I am now quite convinced, study the history of successful revolutionary movements for tips on how minorities can seize power.
Now, such minority movements tend to hold minority beliefs, minority values, minority ideology, minority wordviews. Thus, their success is inversely proportional to the amount of publicity they receive.
Back in 2005, when I began studying and writing on the religious right in earnest, people on the left cared about the subject; disenchanted secular Republicans who had seen their party gobbled up by the religious right cared the most. In 2007, I even worked for one such Republican, who has built a bulwark against the religious right's ongoing project of taking over the U.S. military.
But in 2012 a survey released by the Pew Research Center, on the now much-storied "nones", almost fatally undermined interest in the religious right: young Americans were moving away from organized religion ! Hope was on the horizon ! But those who delved into the fine print of the Pew report would have encountered this:
"The number of Americans who currently say religion is very important in their lives (58%), for instance, is little changed since 2007 (61%)... Pew Research surveys find no change in the percentage of Americans who say that prayer is an important part of their daily life; it is 76% in 2012, the same as it was 25 years ago, in 1987."
Indeed, another poll in the same year, by Public Policy Polling, revealed a different trend among young Americans, 18-29: their growing belief
in supernatural phenomenon such as demon possession. The oldest demographic in the survey was least willing to believe in possession, the youngest the most willing
Meanwhile, the damage that popular misperception of Pew survey did was enormous. The trope of the "nones" spread wildly in the minds of American liberals, secularists, and atheists.
In the newly popular understanding, expressions of Republican political dominance at the state level, such as rampant legislative attacks on abortion rights and contraceptive access, are viewed as expressions of "weakness", even "panic". Really.
In the words of one well-regarded liberal author, "conservative Christians are rapidly losing their grip on power... something has worked them into a panic".
If religious right and Koch brothers-backed Republican control of the majority of state-level government apparatus across America is an expression of moral "panic", what would 100% control be ? Hysteria ?
And when the majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate launch an unprecedented, surprise effort to undermine a major U.S. presidential foreign policy initiative, what is that ? Desperation ? A childish prank ?
Meanwhile, only the executive branch remains beyond the movement's control.
So does Ted Cruz have a shot at the 2016 Republican presidential nomination ?
The odds are against him. But Cruz does have a fair shot at the VP slot, as do the Koch brothers' other two chosen captains Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
As VP pick, Cruz would electrify the evangelical vote. It is no accident that Ted Cruz has spoken, by his own accounting, nine or ten times before the religious right dominated Council For National Policy, now headed by Tony Perkins (also head of the Family Research Council, which is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "hate group".)
And, Cruz has made multiple appearances at the pastors rallies of organizer David Lane where Cruz, like other serious Republican contenders, has been blessed and anointed with the laying on of hands.
Cruz would be fine, but other anointed movement politicians, notably Marco Rubio or Rand Paul, would suffice too.
There's plenty of precedent for such as arrangement, a relatively "secular", ostensibly centrist presidential candidate yoked to one of the Christian right's partisans as a VP pick : Bush/Quayle in 1988 and 1992, Dole/Kemp in 1996, McCain/Palin in 2008.
In 2008, when John McCain's desperate bid to shore up the evangelical vote - by winning a political endorsement from Christian Zionism's leading light, pastor John Hagee - foundered on the shoals of my revelation that Hagee had made the claim that God sent Hitler, McCain doubled down by picking Sarah Palin as his VP running mate.
And it worked, to win the conservative evangelical vote at least. Unfortunately, Palin scared off the moderates and independents. Members of my own family told me they would have voted for McCain, but for Palin - who they regarded as creepy.
It never even came to light, as later admitted on National Public Radio, that Palin was closely tied to a radical, global charismatic movement that hunts witches, casts out demons, and regards all competing belief systems as satanic.
Like Palin, Ted Cruz also has ties to that movement, the New Apostolic Reformation. Unlike Palin, Cruz has argued briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. It's widely admitted, he is a formidable orator with a razor-sharp intellect.
In 2012, at a Texas megachurch, in a speech in which he described "kings" who were "anointed by priests" to "take dominion" over all sectors of society (otherwise known as the 7 Mountains mandate), Ted Cruz' Father Rafael Cruz joined onstage the head of that church, Larry Huch, who laid down a prophetic word; one day, Ted Cruz would be Vice President of the United States.
It would be a modest achievement for one so young and talented. But win or lose, Ted Cruz will be back. And the movement he has helped enable and build is here to stay.