Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern conservative movement, never met a racist or bigot he didn’t love. Those people were the foundation of his infamous brainchild—the Southern Strategy—which leveraged racist sympathies to wedge Southern whites away from the Democratic Party. But even he foresaw the dangers of the Christian right.
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem,” Goldwater said in 1994, as quoted in John Dean’s 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” “Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.” Amen, Barry.
In the wake of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the fierce national backlash against conservative infringement on our personal freedoms, some of those Christian conservatives are starting to feel … uneasy.
Wyoming Republican Susan Stubson, wife of former congressional candidate Tim Stubson, is one of those Christian Republicans. Taking to the pages of The New York Times, the nut of her story is that everything has changed in the Republican Party since Donald Trump arrived on the scene, and all for the worse.
As my faith grew, so did Tim’s political career in the Wyoming Legislature. (He served in the House from 2008 to 2017.) I’ve straddled both worlds, faith and politics, my entire adult life. Often there was very little daylight between the two, one informing the other.
What’s changed is the rise of Christian nationalism. … Gone are the days when a lawmaker might be circumspect about using his or her faith as a vehicle to garner votes.
Imagine believing that Christian nationalism didn’t exist in 2008, and that there was a time when politicians didn’t use faith as a vehicle to garner votes. What do you think Barry Goldwater was complaining about in 1994? Trump didn’t harken a right-wing Christian revival. He rode the wave by explicitly and overtly appealing to its bigotries and regressive agenda. Stubson cries that “Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community by blurring the lines between church and government and in the process rebranding our state’s identity,” yet the Christian Coalition has been active since the late ‘80s, and its overt and partisan religiosity has been a corrosive influence on our politics for decades. It is literally the reason I abandoned the Republican Party in 1994 and became a Democrat.
Wyoming is a “you do you” state. When it’s a blinding snowstorm, the tractor’s in a ditch and we need a neighbor with a winch, our differences disappear. We don’t care what you look like or who you love.
Bullshit. It’s easy to “not care” what a neighbor looks like when the state is 92% white. And Matthew Wayne Shepard was well aware, in his last moments, about how much Wyomingites cared about who they loved. Wyoming passed its first ban on same-sex marriage in 1997, and passed an even harsher one in 2003.
Wyoming conservatives (which comprise most of the state) absolutely care what people look like and who they love. Heck, Stubson herself begins this article complaining about a racist voter she encountered while her husband campaigned for office. And if racism was so rare in Wyoming, we wouldn’t be seeing headlines like this one from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Don't let Cheyenne become known as a racist city,” in a story replete with examples of racism.
That’s not to say the rest of America is more evolved, but why sit there and pretend that Wyoming is a thing that it clearly isn’t?
Still, despite living in this conservative bastion for many years, with its long-running racism and bigotry, Stubson now pretends to be outraged at the new generation of MAGA Republicans.
The impact of this new breed of lawmakers has been swift. Wyomingites got a very real preview this past legislative session of the hazards of one-size-fits-all nationalized policies that ignore the nuances of our state. Last year, maternity wards closed in two sparsely populated communities, further expanding our maternity desert. Yet in debating a bill to provide some relief to new moms by extending Medicaid’s postpartum coverage, a freshman member of the State House, Jeanette Ward, invoked a brutally narrow view of the Bible. “Cain commented to God, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” she said. “The obvious answer is no. No, I am not my brother’s keeper. But just don’t kill him.”
Yes, that is harsh. Seems par for the course for Wyoming, however. Why did those rural hospitals shut down? Better Wyoming has the reasons:
The Wyoming Legislature has the ability to help the state’s struggling hospitals. But lawmakers continue to block our healthcare industry from receiving tens of millions of dollars in federal funding each year by refusing to expand Wyoming Medicaid.
Yeah, that’s on Wyoming Republicans, those who Stubson said would do anything to help each other. Wyoming already ranks as the sixth-most federally dependent state in the country, so I’m not sure why health care is the red line for Republicans.
And that’s not all::
All three hospitals have been hit hard by financial problems, including staffing shortages and “uncompensated care” losses from treating uninsured patients at their emergency rooms who cannot pay.
Well, look at that. You know what would help deal with uninsured patients? Insuring those patients! But Wyoming’s tiny population and its two ultraconservative senators are part of the vanguard against universal health care.
On top of that, we’ve already seen an OB-GYN brain drain from rural red-state hospitals and GOP-led states, as doctors refuse to work under conditions that criminalize basic health care. Abortion is still legal in Wyoming, thanks to a recent ruling, but it’s still very much threatened.
Stubson might decry Ward’s biblical explanation for refusing additional postpartum care, but her husband sat in the state Legislature from 2008 to 2017, one of the majority Republicans who created the conditions that led to that “maternity desert.”
Back to the Times piece:
This confusing mash-up of Scripture (Ms. Ward got it wrong: The answer is yes, I am my brother’s keeper) is emblematic of a Christian nationalist who weaponizes God’s word to promote the agenda du jour. We should expect candidates who identify as followers of Christ to model some concern for other people.
Liberals have been saying that for decades. What would Jesus do? Jesus certainly wouldn’t be promoting policies that have led to maternity deserts in rural America, nor would Jesus be withholding food assistance from elderly voters in debt ceiling negotiations.
I am adrift in this unnamed sea, untethered from both my faith community and my political party as I try to reconcile evangelicals’ repeated endorsements of candidates who thumb their noses at the least of us. Christians are called to serve God, not a political party, to put our faith in a higher power, not in human beings. We’re taught not to bow to false idols. Yet idolatry is increasingly prominent and our foundational principles — humility, kindness and compassion — in short supply.
It’s hard to find sympathy for Stubson, as she is part of the problem. But maybe this realization can help her be part of the solution. The Times isn’t the place to spread this word, but maybe it’s spreading in rural congregations and via small-town newspapers. Maybe neighbors are whispering about this discontent.
Yet Stubson’s closing story offers little hope.
In February, Gov. Mark Gordon hosted a prayer breakfast, a tradition in the Wyoming Legislature in which leaders come together, read Scripture and listen to an inspirational message. The breakfast came toward the end of the Legislature’s session, one pockmarked with ugly exchanges between the Freedom Caucus and other right-wing legislators and the moderates, a house more divided than ever.
If you want to bemoan the pernicious injection of religion into the political process, one in which politicians supposedly never partook, then don’t talk about a “prayer breakfast” in which everyone has to “come together.” Maybe advocate for the abolition of that prayer breakfast? Stubson’s problem isn’t that she’s upset at the Christian right for swallowing up her party. She’s upset that it’s a different kind of Christian. It’s not her kind.
Hers is an ideological objection. She was so fine with the previous version of Jesus Republicans that she didn’t even realize they were Jesus Republicans.
One last point, because this beggars belief:
Wyoming [is] a place so intent on preserving our live-and-let-live cowboy culture, we enshrined it in our state code, Section 8-3-123.
I had to check this out. Here is Section 8-3-123:
(a) The code of the west, as derived from the book, Cowboy Ethics by James P. Owen, and summarized as follows, is the official state code of Wyoming. The code includes:
(i) Live each day with courage;
(ii) Take pride in your work;
(iii) Always finish what you start;
(iv) Do what has to be done;
(v) Be tough, but fair;
(vi) When you make a promise, keep it;
(vii) Ride for the brand;
(viii) Talk less, say more;
(ix) Remember that some things are not for sale;
(x) Know where to draw the line.
Holy hell. Is there anything in there about “live and let live,” or is Stubson gaslighting me? There’s certainly nothing there about fighting against bigotry, or letting people love who they want to, or embracing people who don’t look like you. Heck, there isn’t even anything on there akin to “don’t be an asshole.” In fact, I could see someone being an asshole, and using “do what has to be done,” “be tough,” and “know where to draw the line” to justify it! Never mind that the larger code these folks demand we all live by says very clearly, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Yesterday, we ran a story on a Tennessee county commission where the new nuts in charge have decreed that their decisions have to be “reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the nation’s founding.” This has torn this conservative community apart. “What’s happened here is the Sumner County constitutional conservative Republican group, they don’t believe in government,” said Baker Ring, a Republican who is serving his fourth term on the county commission and is not aligned with the new majority. “They’re opposed to government. But now they are the government.”
That’s conservatism in a nutshell, and always has been.
There’s also this story I wrote last week about St. George, Utah, where the still-sane Republican city council is under assault from the town’s MAGA base. There’s a real civil war underway in today’s conservative movement.
Stubson’s story is part of that narrative, even if I’m less sympathetic to her plight. Wyoming has been the worst of the worst for a long time. She’s just unhappy that even worse people are now in charge.
Jennifer Fernandez Ancona from Way to Win joins Markos and Kerry to talk about the new messaging the Democratic Party’s national candidates are employing going into 2024. Ancona was right about the messaging needed to win the midterms, and we think she’s right about 2024.