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“The Christian Candidate”: The Republican Formula To Snag Christian Votes Is Unraveling

Mike Huckabee is not happy.

Once a rising star in the Republican Party who successfully leveraged his background as a pastor for political advantage, Huckabee’s 2016 presidential run has proved a disappointing sequel to his respectable third place showing in 2008. With underwhelming fundraising numbers and a bump to the kiddy table after the third GOP debate, most voters are no longer paying attention to the former governor’s campaign.

But perhaps the cruelest blow is that many conservative evangelical leaders and organizations have jumped ship, ignoring Huckabee in favor of contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Asked about this betrayal in a radio interview, Huckabee struck back. “A lot of them, quite frankly, I think they’re scared to death that if a guy like me got elected, I would actually do what I said I would do,” he alleged — and that would be bad for business.

“A lot of these organizations wouldn’t have the ability to do urgent fundraising because if we slay the dragon, what dragon do they continue to fight?” Huckabee continued, “And so, for many of them, [my victory] could be a real detriment to their organization’s abilities to gin up their supporters and raise the contributions.”

Huckabee pressed on to the final blow: Conservative evangelicals who don’t support him must be motivated by “secular” concerns like personal gain, because if they were truly acting in faith and prayer, they’d support him over their current candidates of choice.

In other words, if they weren’t so sinful, they’d listen to God and vote Huck.

Huckabee’s expression of his frustration is uncivil and theologically suspect, but from a political perspective the frustration is reasonable. After all, the formula to be the GOP’s “Christian candidate” used to be pretty straightforward: Give special attention to culture war issues like gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion; invoke God and scripture regularly; and tell your faith story in a compelling manner. This worked for Huckabee in 2008, just as it worked in 2012 for another 2016 also-ran, Rick Santorum.

But these days there are a lot of candidates trying to capture the GOP evangelical vote. And their success doesn’t seem to have much to do with their actual faith. Witness Cruz, for example, who quotes liberally from the Bible on the stump. His campaign asks supporters to join his national prayer team so there’s a “direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.” (The sign-up form also includes a box you can tick if you “publicly endorse Senator Ted Cruz for President!”)

While the Cruz camp insists there’s no “political or tactical angle” to joining the prayer team, their candidate’s public prayer requests all but equate his own electoral victory with divine salvation for America. Cruz even has the audacity to call his candidacy a “revival” and “awakening” — as in, the Great Awakenings — and many Christian audiences are eating it up.

Marco Rubio is trying to follow the formula too. In a recent campaign ad, for example, Rubio recites a string of Christian catchphrases and biblical allusions so generic that they offer zero insight into his personal faith.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who is interested in the evangelical vote formula exactly insofar as it helps him be the best, hugest, most successful candidate ever — and no farther. Trump knows he needs to say some Christian stuff, but he’s doing the absolute minimum to pass this test.

I know this because that’s what he word-vomited at a rally in Iowa the last week in December. “I even brought my Bible — the evangelicals, OK?” Trump said. “We love the evangelicals and we’re polling so well.”

In case the point of waving around the Bible wasn’t perfectly clear, he added one more time: “I really want to win Iowa — and again, the evangelicals, the Tea Party — we’re doing unbelievably, and I think I’m going to win Iowa.”

Trump’s transparent pandering has been controversial among conservative evangelicals but oddly successful. To be sure, many Christians, including yours truly, have questioned or criticized Trump’s candidacy on moral grounds. Writing at The New York Times, for instance, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore argued that for evangelical Christians to support Trump means “we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. To back Mr. Trump,” Moore summarized, “[evangelical] voters must repudiate everything they believe.”

But polls consistently find Trump at or near the top of evangelical Republicans’ list, so his pandering seems to work.

Huckabee’s outburst and Trump’s farce are two sides of the same phenomenon: the inevitable unraveling of an election dynamic that has become too absurd a caricature to continue. While Cruz seems on track to execute a classic fulfillment of the “Christian candidate” formula, his performance may well be one of the last of its kind. Huckabee might be right: The best GOP candidate for conservative Christians’ political goals may not be the best actual Christian.

That may seem like a frightening prospect for a post-Obama Republican Party searching for its identity as it loses demographic ground. But however the next few elections shake out, disintegration of the GOP’s wrong-headed obsession with the “Christian candidate” is much overdue.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, January 18, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Evangelicals, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Country Is Leaving Them Behind”: How GOP Candidates Feed The Social Conservative Narrative Of Oppression

If you want to get a sense of what social conservatives are thinking and feeling, there are few better ways than watching how Republican candidates seek their votes. Call it empathizing or pandering, but the candidates know it isn’t enough to say “I agree with you on the issues” — you have to demonstrate that you feel what they feel and look at the world the same way they do. That’s true to a degree of any constituency group, but it may be particularly important with voters who feel as besieged as social conservatives do today.

Which is why many of the GOP presidential candidates are repeating a narrative of victimhood and oppression that has become common on the religious right. It says that the forces of secularism — cruel, immoral, and on the march — are consolidating their gains and preparing to make it all but illegal to be a Christian.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas,” said Jeb Bush in a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The left, says Bobby Jindal, wants to “essentially outlaw firmly held religious beliefs that they do not agree with.” Not only will opposing same-sex marriage get you branded a hater, says Marco Rubio, “what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.” “We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity,” says Mike Huckabee.

It may sound ridiculous to assert that this majority-Christian country with a stronger tradition of religious freedom than any other country on Earth is about to start rounding up Christians and putting them in jail for their beliefs. But to many on the religious right, that doesn’t seem like such a remote possibility.

It’s partly because, in a very real sense, the country is leaving them behind. The rapid change in public opinion and laws on gay rights is the most vivid current reminder, but it’s part of a process that has been going on for decades. The truth is that American society has been drifting away from the “traditional” values to which they hold for some time now, whether it’s on things like corporal punishment, women working outside the home, or the infusion of Christian practices into government-sponsored activities (like prayer in schools). That’s not to mention the discomfort they feel upon seeing a celebrity undergoing a sex change hailed for her courage and splashed across the covers of glamorous magazines.

And Christians themselves are shrinking as a proportion of the population. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, in 2014 Christians made up 70.6 percent of the American population, down 8 points from just seven years before. Meanwhile, the population of the “unaffiliated” — atheists, agnostics, and people who don’t identify with any religion in particular — has grown to 23 percent of the public. Most strikingly, only 56 percent of millennials identify as Christian, while 35 percent are unaffiliated, suggesting that the trend will continue.

So it’s perfectly understandable for social conservatives to feel like they’re living in a society that no longer shares their values, because they are. I might say, “Welcome to the world everybody else lives in” — if you’re a Jew or a Muslim, you aren’t going to complain that unless the department store puts up a banner acknowledging your particular holiday that you’re suffering under the bootheel of oppression.

Nevertheless, many conservative Christians have constructed out of these developments an uplifting story for themselves, where their supposed persecution gives them nobility and heroism. They can now tell themselves that just by doing what they’ve been doing — having lots of kids, staying chaste until marriage, or just going to church — they’re courageous revolutionaries, underdogs fighting the odds on behalf of their principles and God’s desires. When they oppose gay marriage, they aren’t the equivalent of George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door, they’re the equivalent of the Soviet refusenik in 1975 or the American patriot in 1775.

Liberals may dismiss this kind of rhetoric, but it’s mostly sincere, and it will likely become louder as social progress continues in the direction it’s going. It’ll be particularly interesting to see what the candidates say if the Supreme Court rules that gay people have a constitutional right to marry, as it may well do in a matter of weeks.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, June 4, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Right, Social Conservativism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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