The Republican Party and the "Christian Right:" Let's Be Honest, Folks

Austin Hill

3/23/2008 8:26:13 AM - Austin Hill

Can we be candid for a moment?

The Republican Party, and the religious social conservative movement, are at odds with one another.

That’s an assertion of the obvious for some, and yet for others its newsworthy. But just as the struggle between Obama and the Clintons is re-shaping the Democratic Party (and exposing some of its “dirty laundry” at the same time), confusion and chaos within the “Christian Right” is changing the Republican Party as well. And at this point, we simply don’t know what the long-term affects of this turmoil will be for the party as a whole.

You don’t believe there’s a problem? I’d rather spend most of my column space proposing solutions. But over the past four years, we’ve seen plenty of examples of social conservatives being in conflict with the broader Republican fold.

In the historically victorious election year of 2004 alone, we saw social conservatives attempt to unseat incumbent Senator Arlen Spector in Pennsylvania; we saw social conservatives refuse to support Colorado’s Republican Senate candidate Pete Coors (that seat now belongs to Democrat Ken Salazar); and several top social conservative activists threatened Bush-Cheney ‘04 Campaign Chairman Mark Racicot that year, telling him that “we will walk,” if the Republican Party “continues its drift” in the direction of the “homosexual agenda.”

Thus far in the current election cycle, the social conservative movement has been all over the road. Pat Robertson (one of the movement’s founders) endorsed Rudy Giuliani; Gary Bauer, Dr. Richard Land, and Tony Perkins all “voiced enthusiasm” for Fred Thompson; most all of the movement’s leaders ignored Mitt Romney for fear of associating with a Mormon (God forbid); and after Giuliani, Thompson and Romney had all withdrawn from the race, America’s most politically influential Evangelical Christian, Dr. James Dobson, endorsed the candidate who raised taxes and opposed educational choice initiatives while he was Governor of Arkansas - Mike Huckabee.

And the one candidate that I haven’t mentioned yet, is the one who will receive the Republican nomination - - John McCain.

McCain is unmistakably “pro-life,” and has been a defender of the historic, one-man-one-woman definition of marriage, yet for whatever reason the social conservative leaders still don’t like him. In fact, Dr. Dobson has claimed that, while he cannot vote for Obama or Clinton, he can’t vote for McCain either - - so this year, he just won’t vote in the presidential race at all (this is especially ironic - - the social conservative movement began with the objective of getting conservative Christians out of the habit of “not voting”).

So, yes, have no doubt - - there is a “disconnect” between the Republican Party and its largest subcategory of voters - - the religious social conservatives.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this “disconnect” is that it displays a certain ambivalence to sound policy ideas (especially economic policy ideas), while it also suggests that, for the social conservative leaders, theology and church affiliation are more important in the selection of a President tham are the candidates’ actual positions on the issues.

Think about it: McCain is most certainly a “fiscal conservative,“ and an absolute crusader against governmental waste, while religiously he’s an Episcopalian and not an Evangelical. As a Governor, Mike Huckabee was something other than “conservative” on everything from fiscal policy to law enforcement, yet, as he is fond of reminding us all, he is definetly an Evangelical. And Huckabee got the social conservative endorsement just a few weeks before he withdrew from the race, while the last man standing - - nominee McCain - - is still getting snubbed.

So, now what?

Thoughtful voters who might historically have fit into the category of “religious social conservatives” (sometimes referred to as “values voters”), along with everyone else who might be inclined to vote Republican, should carefully consider what the “Republican coalition” is really about. Sure, it’s easy to be cynical about the three subdivisions of the party - - the fiscal conservatives, the social conservatives, and the national defense “hawks” - - and assume that the relationship between the three is purely arbitrary, or merely thrown together for the sake of short-term political expediency.

But in reality, it’s not about anything short term. The agendas of each of the three subdivisions form a relationship of core necessity, and working together, they nurture the entire nation.

So the leaders of the religious social conservative movement can continue their talk of being “pro-family,” while they ignore the multitude of crucial policy issues that are in play, and try to avoid people who belong to the “wrong” church. But the rest of us need to be more thoughtful.

Here is the reality facing social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and the pro-defense hawks, all at once: in order to maximize the wellbeing of our families, we need a stable and thriving economy. And our economy only thrives when sound economic policies are in place. And a thriving economy requires that healthy families are producing healthy, competent children who will be our nation’s future wealth producers. And if our nation’s security is not assured, then our familial and economic objectives are for not.

Let’s hope a sufficient number of Americans catch-on to this, even if the “pro-family” leaders don’t.