“Almost Giddy”: Religious Conservatives Celebrate John Boehner’s Downfall—And Pray Mitch McConnell Is Next
This morning, when Senator Marco Rubio interrupted his address to the Values Voter Summit in Washington to break the news that House Speaker John Boehner was resigning, the crowd of conservative Christian activists immediately rose to their feet, breaking into cheers and shouts of “Amen!”
“The time has come to turn the page,” Rubio declared to raucous applause. After the speech, the overjoyed activists described Boehner as the emblem of all that’s wrong with Washington today: too weak, too moderate, and unwilling to listen to the conservative base. “Mr. Boehner has no backbone when it comes to standing up for principles that Christians believe in,” said Ron Goss, an activist from Locust Dale, Virginia.
“It’s absolutely best news I’ve heard in months,” said Judith Neal, a Christian activist from San Dimas, California.
“I am delighted because he’s been there too long,” said Gary Frazier, a Christian organizer from Colleyville, Texas. Like the other conservatives assembled from around the country for the weekend summit, Frazier has said that conservatives expected big things after the 2014 midterms and Republicans took full control of Congress. Instead, he continued, “it’s been a year and a half of nothing.” Nobody on the religious right has been fooled by the current Republican threat to shut down the govenment over Planned Parenthood funding, he said, calling it “nothing but political posturing.”
The moment they heard about Boehner, the mood among the activists—so long frustrated by electing Republicans who didn’t carry out their agenda effectively—became almost giddy. “I’m just a little overwhelmed,” Neal said, holding her hand to her heart. “He’s held back Congress from doing all the right things.” But he’s not the only one, she said. Like many activists, Neal immediately began hoping that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be next, adding that she was now feeling more hopeful that the Republican establishment was finally—finally!—starting to listen.
There was no consensus among activists as to who the next speaker should be, but they expressed confidence that it would be someone from the GOP’s right flank who’d be more friendly to their social agenda than Boehner. Shak Hill, a Ted Cruz supporter and Virginia-based activist, said that the new speaker should force President Obama to veto more bills. “We’re not putting forward enough issues to show [Obama’s] true colors,” Hill said. Tammi Wilson, 51, a conservative activist from North Carolina, agreed: She’d specifically like to see the next Speaker bring up bills that challenge funding on a line-by-line basis, as opposed to the omnibus spending bills that have kept the government open. Republicans like Boehner, she said, haven’t done so because “they’re afraid of Obama.”
The right flank of the GOP has been calling for Boehner to resign for years, but the shadow of the 2016 elections seems to have done him in. In the short term, Boehner’s resignation could conceivably help Republican candidates convince disillusioned and frustrated GOP voters that change is possible after all, that there’s renewed hope of their agenda advancing. But those hopes could also backfire on the Republican establishment, precisely because of the renewed optimism that evangelicals were reveling in this morning: Cynicism and frustration with Washington have hurt the candidates who already hold office. But what happens when the frustrations set in again, and activists want the insurgents to flex their muscles and topple the establishment again?
Senator Ted Cruz, who’s counting on the religious right to be a cornerstone of his campaign, wasn’t worrying about that for now: Taking the stage shortly after his presidential rival, Rubio, broke the news about Boehner, Cruz used the speaker’s resignation as a rallying cry. “You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington?” Cruz asked, clearly feeling the buzz of unexpected optimism in the crowd. “Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House. Y’all come to town and all of a sudden that changes. My only request is that you come more often.”
By: Suzy Khimm, Senior Editor, The New Republic; September 25, 2015
While the rest of the Republican presidential candidates were at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this weekend, Jeb Bush traveled to Virginia to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. While a speech like that will of course be full of praise for God, Bush’s speech went farther than one might have expected, both in its blunt sectarianism and its embrace of a narrative of victimhood that has grown increasingly popular on the religious right.
This may be what the base of the Republican Party wants to hear. But it also shows how appealing to that base could create problems for whichever Republican becomes the presidential nominee next year.
While lots of people remember Jeb Bush’s brother as an evangelical Christian, he actually isn’t — George W. Bush is a Methodist, a non-evangelical denomination (Jeb himself is a convert to Catholicism). And throughout his presidency, despite some occasional (and probably unintentional) slips like referring to the war on terror as a “crusade,” Bush was carefully inclusive when he talked about religion. It would have been surprising to hear him extol the superiority of Christianity as his brother Jeb did on Saturday. “Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” Bush said. And then there was this:
“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”
That’s a far cry from what Mitt Romney said eight years ago when he gave his big speech on religion — at least in that case, Romney argued for the essential place of religion broadly, and not just his own. I should note that near the end of the speech, Bush did acknowledge that non-Christians can be good people, too. But if you aren’t a Christian, the idea that without Christianity life on earth would inevitably be a nightmare of oppression and meaninglessness is something you might find absurd, or even offensive.
And you might think Bush would step a little more carefully given the trends in religious affiliation in America. While Christians are of course the majority, that majority that is declining steadily. The groups that are increasing their proportion of the U.S. population include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and most importantly, the “unaffiliated,” people who don’t consider themselves part of any organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the unaffiliated were 16 percent of the population in 2010 and will be 26 percent by 2050; over the same period Christians will decline from 78 percent to 66 percent.
That’s a long-term trend; for the moment, Bush seems to think that the way to the hearts of the conservative Christians who make up such a large part of the Republican primary electorate (particularly in Iowa, where over half of GOP caucus-goers are evangelicals) is to embrace a narrative of victimhood that has become so prevalent on the right:
“Fashionable opinion – which these days can be a religion all by itself – has got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience. That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution.
“It can be a touchy subject, and I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith. Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, ‘No. Never. Of course not.’ If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he refuses even to impose them on himself.
“The mistake is to confuse points of theology with moral principles that are knowable to reason as well as by faith. And this confusion is all part of a false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone. The stories vary, year after year, but the storyline is getting familiar: The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way. Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.
“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas. And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with. So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons. Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution. Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.”
Extra points to Bush for referring to progressives planning a “great leap forward” — so subtle. But this idea of Christianity as an embattled and encircled faith within the United States when it’s still held by three-quarters of the population has become essential to the right’s current identity politics. As Bill O’Reilly says: “If you’re a Christian or a white man in the U.S.A., it’s open season on you.” Indeed, when will white men finally get a fair shake?
The victimhood narrative has found its most recent expression in the plight of the nation’s legions of fundamentalist bakers who don’t want to sell cakes to gay weddings, and through the Hobby Lobby case, where a poor innocent corporation was supposedly forced by the heavy hand of government to defile its health insurance plan with contraception coverage.
But it’s been building for years, not only as gay rights have advanced but also as a result of the steady diversification of American society. If you grew up with your religious beliefs being the default setting for society at large — when it’s your prayers being said in public schools, when only people who share your religion are elected president, when your holidays are everyone’s holidays — then a growing inclusiveness can feel like an attack on you. It seems like you’ve lost something, even if you can’t admit that it was something only you and people like you were privileged to possess.
I don’t doubt that there are Christians who are sincerely affronted when they walk into a department store in December and see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” even if I might find their taking offense unjustified. It’s the people who find in “Happy Holidays” the evidence of their oppression that Bush is reaching out to, saying that he’s every bit with them as are the likes of Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.
And just as on immigration and many other issues, saying to the Republican primary electorate that the candidate is one of you and thinks like you do sends precisely the opposite message to lots of the voters whom he’ll need when the general election comes. It’s a devil’s bargain, but one that Jeb Bush and many of his competitors, with their eyes on the nomination, seem only too eager to make.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 11, 2015
“There Isn’t Going To Be An Evangelical President”: Huckabee Doesn’t Seem To Understand The Place Of Evangelicals In Today’s GOP
There was no doubt that when Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy for president, God would come up. After all, Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister who made a strong showing in his 2008 race in large part because of the support of evangelical voters. Huckabee made crystal clear that he’s running to get the support of those evangelical voters again.
Huckabee talked about how much he prayed in school as a child in Hope, Arkansas, where he “learned that this exceptional country could only be explained by the Providence of God.” He asserted that “the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God,” a clear reference to same-sex marriage.
But for someone who wants to be the candidate of evangelicals, Huckabee doesn’t seem to understand the place of evangelicals in today’s GOP.
Huckabee’s most fundamental miscalculation has two parts: first, that there can be one candidate who garners the support of most religious right voters, and second, that even if he pulled that off, it would be enough to make him the party’s nominee (for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to talk about evangelicals and the religious right interchangeably, but they’re obviously not exactly the same thing).
If you’re an evangelical Republican voter looking for a presidential candidate who shares your values, you’re faced with an embarrassment of riches in this election. In addition to Huckabee, you’ve got Scott Walker (the son of a Baptist minister), Rick Santorum (whose commitment to “traditional values” will stack up against anyone’s), Rick Perry (whose best-remembered ad from four years ago began, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” tapping into the religious right’s narrative of oppression), Bobby Jindal (who holds prayer rallies), and other candidates like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson who wear their piety on their sleeves. With all that to choose from, it will simply be impossible for any one of them to become the candidate of the religious right.
Huckabee might say, well, I was pretty much the candidate of the religious right in 2008, and I won Iowa! Indeed he did — and then he lost the nomination, as did Rick Santorum four years later following the same script. Evangelicals are particularly important in that first caucus state, but far less so in the rest of the country, which is why their chosen Iowa candidate almost never wins. They made up 57 percent of GOP Iowa caucus voters in 2012 — but only 43 percent of Romney’s voters in the general election, and only 26 percent of general election voters overall.
Furthermore, there are plenty of evangelicals who aren’t so attracted to the old-school style of a man who wrote columns as a teenager warning against the evils of dancing. Here’s how religion reporter Sarah Posner describes the feelings of many evangelicals, particularly younger ones:
These evangelicals are listening for a candidate who can signal he is “one of us” without pandering. Both evangelical and Catholic candidates who have earned the culture warrior label for their strident pronouncements—Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee — are seen as embarrassing embodiments of stereotypes these conservative Christians would like to shed.
When the entertainment at Huckabee’s announcement event is Tony Orlando singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” — a song that topped the charts 42 years ago — he isn’t exactly reaching out to a new generation.
Does this mean that the evangelical vote no longer matters in the Republican primaries? Not at all. It still matters a great deal, but the fact that evangelicals won’t vote as a bloc means they matter in a different way. If any of the candidates can get at least some of their votes, then every candidate has an interest in speaking to them (or pandering to them, depending on how you want to think about it). So their concerns and their issues will be on all the candidates’ minds and on their lips.
The evangelical vote is still important, but there won’t be an evangelical champion — Mike Huckabee, or anyone else. Yes, an evangelical such as Scott Walker might be elected president. But he wouldn’t be the evangelicals’ chosen candidate. No one will.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 6, 2015
“The Devil Came Down To Georgia And Paid Off Judas”: Republicans Want Their Own Tidy Little Jim Crow Zone Of Discrimination
In some startling, if preliminary, good news from Georgia, members of a state House committee, including three Republicans, “gutted” a religious liberty bill by adding language foreswearing any preemption of anti-discrimination laws. Proponents of the bill quickly moved to table it for the session, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Aaron Gould Sheinin:
The stunning move to table Senate Bill 129 came after Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, succeeded in amending it to make clear that the bill would protect against “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.”
“I take at face value the statements of proponents that they do not intend discrimination with this bill,” Jacobs said. “I also believe that if this is the case, we as the General Assembly should state that expressly in the bill itself.”
Ha ha! Good one!
But “religious liberty” fans are not amused by having their own words quoted back to them. Erick Erickson, who often treats Georgia politics like his own personal dominion, pitched a hissy fit that’s extreme even by his porous standards, focusing on two Republicans who appeared to switch sides by voting with Jacobs, and a third who didn’t vote on the amendment.
Yesterday, I encouraged everyone to call Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard to tell them thank you. They had stood with Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and people of faith. They fought off attempts to gut the religious liberty legislation in Georgia.
After you had taken the time to call them, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard stabbed you in the back.
A week before we remember the anniversary of Judas selling out our Lord for 30 pieces of silver, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard have sold out people of faith.
The very amendments they stopped that would have gutted the religious liberty bill, they put back in yesterday. They saved RFRA in a subcommittee only to kill it in full committee. And they did it after you had thanked them for sparing the legislation.
This is a serious betrayal. They stabbed you in the back as you were thanking them for defending your faith.
Whoa, Erick, remember you’re supposed to be the fearful, persecuted victim here, not a raging vengeful homophobe. Start tossing around references to Judas and you might find yourself tempted to lead one of those medieval-style Good Friday pogroms if you are not careful (as the AJC pointed out this morning, the prime mover in “gutting” the bill, Mark Jacobs, is Jewish).
What the incident makes clear, of course, is that the whole point of “religious liberty” legislation is to sanction discrimination. These people fully intend to discriminate, and demand the right to do so, because they’ve convinced themselves (by conflating traditional secular culture with Christianity, and then finding a few lifted-out-of-context references in Scripture that seem to back it up) that God wants them to discriminate against gay people as unclean. They want their own tidy little Jim Crow zone of discrimination where they benefit from the laws and policies they approve of but are allowed to disregard the others.
But as Erickson demonstrates, the really hard thing for them is to reconcile the appropriate appearance of Christ-like suffering at their terrible victimization with the fury they clearly feel at losing control of the political and legal system, if only for a moment.
One other reason the Freedom to Discriminate coalition is angry is that it is being “betrayed” not just by RINO legislators, but by the business community, which in Georgia and elsewhere, doesn’t want to sacrifice convention business in order to let people defy anti-discrimination laws.
These in Erick’s analogy are the equivalents to the Jewish priests who paid off Judas to turn over Christ to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the conspiracy apparently is even wider: Erickson points to Gov. Nathan Deal–a hard-core Christian Right pol–for allegedly being on the brink of appointing the chief betrayer of the faithful, Mark Jacobs, to a judgeship.
Having repeatedly appropriated to himself the right to determine who is and is not a “Christian,” ol’ Erick clearly needs to do some more purging of the Republican ranks to make the GOP safe for people who want to appropriate the right to determine which laws to obey.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 27, 2015
“Scott Walker; W. Without The Compassion”: With Walker, Conservative Evangelicals Don’t Much Feel The Need For Compassion
While it’s becoming common to hear Scott Walker dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan or Flavor of the Month or Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time gaffmeister sure to be pushed aside to make way for Jeb’s Brinks truck of cash or Rubio’s glamor, there are less-apparent aspects of his appeal worth noting. That intrepid translator of the Christian Right’s codes, Sarah Posner, has a fascinating take at Religion Dispatches about Walker perfectly matching a growing mood among politically active conservative evangelicals who want a less showy but more reliable champion:
Should he run for president, Walker may very well turn out to be the 2016 cycle’s evangelical favorite—not because he ticks off a laundry list of culture war talking points, pledges fealty to a “Christian nation,” or because he’s made a show of praying publicly to curry political favor. Although by no means universal, some conservative evangelicals—those who eschew the fever swamps of talk radio, yet share the same political stances of the religious right—are weary of the old style of campaigning. They’re turned off by the culture war red meat, the dutiful but insincere orations of piety….
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that in 2016 evangelicals won’t be looking to candidates to “know the words to hymns,” “repeat cliches about appointing Supreme Court justices who will ‘interpret the law, not make the law,’” or to use “‘God and country’ talk borrowed from a 1980s-era television evangelist.”
Moore “has a good feel of the pulse of evangelicals” and “represents a wide segment” of them, said Tobin Grant, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University and blogger on religion and politics for Religion News Service. Unlike his predecessor, Richard Land, known for inflaming the culture wars, Moore’s “focus is more on religious and social concerns than directly political ones” and has “less interest in changing DC and more interest in keeping DC out of the way of the church,” Grant said.
These evangelicals are listening for a candidate who can signal he is “one of us” without pandering. Both evangelical and Catholic candidates who have earned the culture warrior label for their strident pronouncements—Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee—are seen as embarrassing embodiments of stereotypes these conservative Christians would like to shed….
Walker hits the right evangelical notes without overplaying his hand—and that’s exactly the way they want him to keep it. John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy and provost at Houston Baptist University, said that Walker “would do well to do nothing to appeal to us. We get it. He’s one of us. He sounds like one of us. He leans forward like one of us. He answers questions like one of us.”
Now this isn’t to say the new strain among conservative Christians involves any changes in their positions on culture-war issues, or a tolerance for different opinions: it’s a matter of tone and emphasis–and of trust.
You may recall how effective George W. Bush was in dropping little indicators of his evangelical piety (even though, technically, he attended a mainline Protestant church), like a secret handshake, when he showed up on the campaign trail in the 2000 cycle: Bible quotes, allusions to hymns, and evangelical catch-phrases were modestly arrayed in his rhetoric–not abrasively, but just enough that believers saw it, and as with Walker, knew he was “one of us.” Bush, of course, also grounded much of his “compassionate conservative” agenda in church work and religious sentiment. It seems that with Walker conservative evangelicals don’t much feel the need for compassion, which is a good thing, since it’s not one of his more obvious traits. No, they want something else:
Instead of talking about opposition to marriage equality, evangelical activists say, religious freedom has become the new defining mantra. Unlike marriage equality, on which white evangelicals, particularly Millennials, are divided, religious freedom unifies them like no other issue but abortion.
“What will matter to evangelicals,” Moore wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “is how the candidate, if elected president, will articulate and defend religious-liberty rights.”
The religious liberty issue is, for evangelicals, a “four-alarm fire,” said Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, part of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He said evangelicals expect the candidates “to have the courage of their convictions to persuade people about what’s going on.”
From the Hobby Lobby litigation to cases involving florists, bakers, and photographers refusing to provide services for same-sex ceremonies, the issue has been percolating in the evangelical community for years. In recent weeks, conservative Christians have talked and written prolifically about Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist found liable under the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to provide flowers for a long-time gay customer’s wedding, and Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief fired after revelations about anti-gay comments he wrote in a book.
It requires a great deal of paranoia and passive-aggressive claims of “persecution,” of course, to take isolated collisions between anti-discrimination laws and religious principles into a major threat to the immensely privileged position of Christians in the United States. But it seems Christian Right leaders are up to the task, and here, too, Walker, with his quiet but insistent talk about death threats from the enemies he’s made in Wisconsin, fills the bill.
Speaking in 2012 to a teleconference with activists from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Walker said his faith has enabled him to rise above the “vitriol, and the constant, ongoing hatred” during the recall election he faced in the wake of his anti-union legislation, which has crippled the state’s once-iconic labor movement. Along with the unmistakable contrast of his church-going family with the profane and progressive activists, Walker cited two Bible verses. He didn’t recite them, but for anyone who knows their Bible—as Walker, the son of a Baptist pastor, does—the meaning was clear. The verses that helped him withstand the hatred were Romans 16:20 (“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you”) and Isaiah 54:17 (“no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”)
Don’t know about you, but I’d interpret those two verses as consolatory promises of Christian vengeance, not turn-the-other-cheeck pacifism. And so it may be Walker is giving exactly the right impression of representing stolid but not showy vindicator who’s in for a long fight with secular socialists and their union allies.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 13, 2015