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“Scott Walker And The Christian Right”: Seeing What They Can Extort From Walker In Exchange For Their Blessing

Yesterday Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt created a stir by reporting that Scott Walker was rushing to deal with misgivings among Christian Right leaders about his fidelity to the Cause. The less-than-subtle headline–“Scott Walker’s crisis of faith”–suggested that he was speeding to a summit meeting with said leaders, who held his fate in their hands.

But if you read the piece carefully, it’s not clear exactly who’s among the “50 influential leaders” Walker is meeting with at the Capitol Hill Club–the top Republican Beltway hangout, and an unlikely place for any faith-based summit–other than social-issues warhorse Tony Perkins. Isenstadt actually used the meeting to solicit skeptical comments from an array of old-school Christian Right types, including Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats (whose whole shtick is using his leverage in the first-in-the-nation Caucus state to intimidate Republican presidential candidates), Penny Nance of Concerned Women of America, a group that’s been closely associated with Mike Huckabee, and Liberty Counsel’s Matt Staver, co-author of a recent shrill anti-marriage equality manifesto.

On Twitter Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches quickly dismissed Walker’s DC “huddle” as a nothing-burger. Posner, as some of you may recall, wrote a piece recently suggesting that Walker may wind up being the favorite of rank-and-file conservative evangelicals, who aren’t necessarily following their old leaders these days.

As it happens, a rare early national poll with exceptionally detailed cross-tabs was released this week that casts some light on the question of conservative evangelical sympathies. The GWU/Battleground Poll showed Scott Walker with a 45/4 favorable/unfavorable rating among conservative white evangelicals, as compared to 54/34 for Jeb Bush, 69/15 for Mike Huckabee, 51/10 for Ted Cruz, 56/11 for Marco Rubio, and 50/26 for Ron Paul. So a lot of them don’t know Walker, but so far, those who do really like him. On the more revealing question of “would you consider voting for this candidate,” Walker paces the field with a yes/no ratio of 70/19, compared with 67/27 for Rubio, 67/28 for Huck, 65/24 for Cruz, 56/37 for Paul, and Jebbie bringing up the rear at 54/42.

So one way to look at it is that Scott Walker’s doing okay with the Christian Right rank-and-file no matter what their alleged leaders are saying. And the other way to look at it is that said leaders figure they’d better get in front of this particular train and see what they can extort from Walker in exchange for their blessing, or at least their non-hostility.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 15, 2015

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stealth Religion-Based Support”: Jeb’s Strategy With The Christian Right; Osmosis

If you are used to thinking of Jeb Bush as this Establishment Republican that hard-core conservatives–including the Christian Right–mistrust, this little nugget from a recent National Journal piece by Tim Alberta and Tiffany Stanley might be a jarring reminder of the long reach of Jeb’s family:

[P]owerful Christian conservatives are operating what amounts to a stealth campaign on Bush’s behalf. Some are old allies from the Florida days; others are holdovers from George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Some are both, including Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a longtime friend of Jeb’s who served as Southeast regional chairman of George W.’s 2004 reelection effort (and thus practically lived in Florida). Multiple GOP sources say that Reed has been urging Jeb Bush for several years to make a 2016 run and spoke with him recently to game out the campaign. Like many of the organizations that Bush’s supporters lead, Reed’s coalition demands impartiality from its leaders, so Reed can’t openly back his man—unless, as some suspect will happen, Reed ultimately decides to join the campaign officially.

This makes Jeb’s decision to blow off the big Iowa cattle-call of Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition this weekend a bit more interesting, eh? Seems Jeb would prefer quiet consultations with his close friend Ralph Reed to open pandering. And indeed, that’s the theme that comes through from stem to stern in the Alberta/Stanley article, which begins with Jeb simultaneously refusing a formal vetting session with Iowa Christian Right kingpin Bob Vander Plaats while trying to charm him privately. We also learn that last summer Jeb flew out to Colorado to hobnob with the leadership of Focus on the Family, and spent a whole day with Russell Moore, the highly influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He’s extremely close to the president of Florida’s Ave Maria University, sort of the Harvard of hyper-traditionalist Catholicism (and the site of Rich Santorum’s now-famous “spiritual warfare” speech). And he has the support and advice of Mark DeMoss, who was the Romney campaign’s chief liaison to conservative evangelicals in 2012–not to mention the positive memories of many Christian Right folk about his role in the Terri Schiavo saga of 2005.

At a minimum, if Jeb wins the GOP nomination, he will not have to waste time on any courtship of conservative Christians. But at a time when (a) some Christian Right leaders like Russell Moore are expressing a preference for less noisy and more strategically minded political champions and (b) there will be an awful lot of the noisy types in the field, Bush may be quietly competing already with Scott Walker for stealth religion-based support. And he doesn’t really even have to blow many dog whistles: it’s more a strategy of osmosis, where Christian Soldiers learn to view him as a comrade-in-arms who is all the more effective for trying not to set off too many alarms in the secular-socialist enemy camp.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015

April 23, 2015 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Jeb Bush, Religious Right | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear Factor”: Iowa Summit Serves Reminder Of Why Religion, Politics Don’t Mix

Of everything coming out of this year’s Iowa Family Leadership Summit, the fear factor is what stayed with me.

It was a constant, discomfiting undercurrent, like a loose nail poking up in your shoe. It was organization President Bob Vander Plaats declaring this a time of “spiritual warfare,” and speaker Joel Rosenberg announcing America is “on the road to collapse” and “implosion,” and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, warning grimly, “We are living in some very dangerous times.”

The third year of the event sponsored by the self-described Christ-centered organization that seeks to influence policy and elections, brought big name politicians Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry to Ames, Iowa, this past weekend. They were there to rally the Republican base in the lead-off caucus state. But the upbeat, love-God-and-country tone of previous events appeared at times to have been replaced by a somber, calamitous note of foreboding. Even Satan got a few mentions.

Projected onto a giant screen to punctuate Vander Plaats’ remarks was a video filled with haunting images of Osama bin Laden, Adam Lanza and the Boston marathon bombings. It depicted a rising national debt, marijuana, Boys Scouts, gay rainbow flag and a woman holding up a “Keep abortion legal” sign. It ended with someone yelling, “God is dead. Hail Satan!”

Sponsors and speakers still exalted matrimony and procreation in heterosexual relationships, called for putting God back in the classroom and government, and called abortion murder. But this year’s message was: The nation is in moral decline. Ignore it at your own peril. That was even carried into foreign policy.

Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian born to a Jewish father, said the United States must not support a two-state solution in Israel because a sovereign Palestinian state “defies the biblical mandate.” Interesting that a Christian American would presume to tell Palestinian Muslims they don’t deserve a homeland because of what the Bible says. This follows an evangelical belief that Jews from around the world will gather in Israel, where the second coming of Christ will occur, and — though Rosenberg didn’t spell this out — be converted to Christianity.

“God loves you but if we don’t receive Christ, there are consequences,” Rosenberg warned.

Is fear a new strategy for the Family Leader and its affiliated Family Research Council and Focus on the Family? Is it a response to flagging interest and political losses? Organizers said there were 1,200 attendees, and that there has been steady growth in three years. But many seats were empty. Is it a concession they’re losing the battle over abortion and gay rights? Abortion has not been completely outlawed, even under a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. Having succeeded in getting three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court voted out over same-sex marriage, a few years ago, the Family Leader failed in its more recent campaign against a fourth. Same-sex couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries with children and grandchildren, and the planet has survived.

What the planet might not ultimately survive — global warming — wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, if this were a true gathering of faith leaders, one might have expected some commitment to keeping the environment healthy, some compassion for the poor and immigrants. There were calls for abolishing the entire tax system that sustains the poor in times of need. There were calls for boosting border patrols to turn back young asylum seekers before their cases are heard. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, boasted of having cut 1,400 state employees and cut property taxes, which fund education, more than ever in Iowa history.

But if it were a political forum to vet candidates, a Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist one would have had no place there. In one video, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, said, “The only place you get right with God is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Outside in the parking lot, some protestors from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, which describes itself as a social and educational organization, objected. “The summit is attempting to define legislation through Christian dogma,” said protestor Jason Benell. “They want to blur the line between church and state. That’s not what Iowans want.”

He also objected to the idea that faith was necessary to have a good family. His group sees a ramping up of religious rhetoric in response to the Family Leader’s “fear of losing its base.”

Everyone will, of course, vote according to their own priorities. But America is not a theocracy, so it’s alarming to see politicians, by attending and playing to the sponsors, play into the notion that worshiping Jesus should be a prerequisite for federal or state office. America also cannot base its Mideast policy on some biblical interpretation about Israel. Whatever our religious affiliation or lack of it, I’d guess most voters have better explanations for Sept. 11 or the Sandy Hook shootings than God’s revenge – and would like to practical, reason-based solutions from those seeking office.

 

By: Rekha Basu, Columnist, The Des Moines Register; The National Memo, August 14, 2014

 

 

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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