Conservative Evangelicals, angry that women still have control over their own bodies, angry that their prayers aren't foisted on every school child, angry that we don't live in a theocracy, and angry that gays, well, still exist, are claiming they'll be tougher on Republicans this time around.
With the GOP having controlled the White House and the House for the previous six years — and the Senate for the previous four — social conservatives expected much more progress on their agenda in Washington. Although they are happy that Bush has used his veto power to stop an expansion of federal stem cell research, signed a law banning the procedure opponents call “partial birth” abortion and won confirmation of two solid conservatives to the Supreme Court, the Christian right’s rank and file say they’re frustrated that Washington has not pushed for more-sweeping restrictions on abortion and gay rights.
Meanwhile, the president’s support for granting a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally has further strained the GOP’s relations with the evangelical base — a voting bloc Perkins estimates as one-third of voters in the GOP primaries, enough to make or break any candidate. And the past year’s trio of Republican A-congressional sexual scandals — centered on Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho — has only fed the climate of disillusion. “Certainly,” Perkins said, “there is reason to be concerned about the future of the relationship” between social conservatives and the Republican Party.
And that has led Perkins and other religious leaders to push for the closer-than-usual examination of the GOP aspirants. “What I hear and see is that if you were a Republican candidate in the past, you got a pass on close scrutiny on key issues,” Perkins said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case anymore. They are going to have to verify their credentials in order to gain the support of social conservatives.”
The problem for these right-wing religious zealots is that they are far outside the American mainstream on pretty much all the issues, none more so personified than the Schiavo disaster -- which I suspect was a major catalyst (among many) driving independents away from a scary, increasingly theocratic Republican Party.
And while these Evangelicals claim they'll be paying extra close attention to their potential nominees, many of the top Republicans are working to distance themselves from this crowd.
The biggest GOP names — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson — sat out the Values Voter Presidential Debate, citing scheduling conflicts. That didn't stop questioners from addressing the front-runners who didn't attend.
Giuliani, Romney and McCain were all asked questions about abortion and gay rights. All, of course, went unanswered.
"They will regret the decision," said Jan Folger, president of Faith2Action and a member of the debate host committee. "Because they snubbed us, they will not win, because we will not follow their lead." [...]
Though all four front-runners cited scheduling conflicts with the debate, Giuliani was in Fort Lauderdale just hours before the debate and Thompson was in Florida over the weekend and is due back Tuesday.
Meanwhile, conservative Evangelicals are freaking out over the splintering of their movement, with many Evangelicals deciding it's best to follow the Bible's teachings rather than marching orders from RNC headquarters.
[O]ther religious voters are embracing causes not traditionally identified with American conservatism, such as global warming, human rights and poverty relief [...]
“I’m sensing the emergence of an old guard and a new guard,” said Amy E. Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois.
While the break is not exclusively along generational lines, Black says, many of her students — the school is among the most culturally conservative in the country — are more likely than their elders to question the GOP line on issues such as climate change and human rights. Many have also begun to pull away from their elders’ support for the Iraq War — and to distance themselves from President Bush as a result.
At the same time, a number of prominent evangelical leaders have successfully wedded a more liberal outlook to their religious message. Jim Wallis, the self-styled evangelical progressive who founded and edits Sojourners magazine, is a familiar leader in this leftward faction. Richard Cizik, the Washington director of the National Association of Evangelicals, has launched a high-profile initiative to publicize the importance of global warming and other environmental causes for Christian believers — provoking Perkins and other evangelical leaders to press unsuccessfully for his ouster earlier this year. More-centrist figures, such as the popular baby boomer minister Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” have staked out high-profile “social justice” mission projects. Warren has embarked on an aid initiative to transform the war-ravaged African nation of Rwanda into a “purpose-driven nation” and drew harsh criticism from religious conservatives for inviting Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a leading candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, to speak at an AIDS conference at his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.
It definitely is a moment of crisis for the Evangelical Right. When you style yourself the GOP's ground army (and they are), yet your presidential forum attracts only Huckabee, Brownback, John Cox (who?), Alan Keyes Ron Paul, Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, you know you're getting the dredges of the GOP field.
They're not just losing the ideological and "culture" war (yes, people love Queer Eye and Gay-Straight alliances are popular in high schools these days) in broader America, they are losing it from within as they bleed activists to progressive causes. Some of their highest profile leaders have been brought down by scandal -- Ralph Reed and Ted Haggard (former head of the National Association of Evangelicals), as well as political allies like Sen. Larry Craig -- while also losing one of their biggest champions, Jerry Falwell, this year.
It's a movement in disarray and their increasing disenchantment with politics may prove yet another headache for an already-reeling Republican Party.
Comments are closed on this story.