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“Is The GOP Losing Its Religion?”: Religion Will Never Again Enjoy The Public Influence It Once Had

In American politics, where has God gone?

Of course this is an inadequate way of posing the question. God is always present for believers, even if the political workings of the divine can be hard to discern. And religious people continue to occupy points all along the spectrum. Just ask Hillary Clinton about her Methodism.

But especially among Republicans, religious issues have taken a back seat in the party’s discourse and religious leaders are playing a diminished role in the 2016 campaign.

This was not how things started. Many had the remarkable experience during the primaries of hearing Ted Cruz declare to his followers: “Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from the abyss.” You can’t get much more religious than that.

But Cruz failed to awaken and unite religious conservatives, a reason why Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelicals was profound.

On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, gay marriage and other moral issues. On the other were those among the faithful so angry about the direction of the country and what they saw as the marginalization of conservative Christianity in public life that they opted for the strongman who could push back hard against their enemies.

Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, spoke for the second group. “Most Americans know we are in a mess,” Jeffress declared, “and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”

Jeffress reflects a profound pessimism among conservative Christians that contrasts sharply with the movement’s hopeful spirit in its Reagan Era heyday.

The current gloom grows out of an implicit awareness of the reality shrewdly captured in the forthcoming book, “The End of White Christian America,” by my friend and colleague Robert Jones. Although conservative Christianity will remain important, the sheer force of demography means it will never again enjoy the public influence it once had.

And in imagining that Trump will somehow reverse the trend, Christian conservatives are taking a big risk. As he has on so much else, Trump has been entirely opportunistic in his approach to religion. By some measures, he’s running the most secular Republican campaign since the 1970s.

In the early primaries, particularly in Iowa and the South, Trump tried hard to identify with a constituency he knew would be key to his success. “I love the evangelicals,” Trump said. “Why do they love me? You’ll have to ask them — but they do.”

His efforts were often awkward. He mangled references to the Bible, referred to communion as “my little cracker,” and once momentarily mistook the communion plate when it came around for the donation plate. But none of this seemed to matter.

He also was far-sighted. Long ago, he put some money where his political needs would be. As Betsy Woodruff reported last year for The Daily Beast, The Donald J. Trump Foundation contributed $100,000 in 2012 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and in 2013 gave $10,000 each to The Family Leader, an influential Iowa evangelical group, and to Samaritan’s Purse.

Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, said nice things about Trump early on. But he took Trump to task in April when the candidate distanced himself from North Carolina’s law barring transgender people from using bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity. Characteristically, Trump quickly walked the statement back and proclaimed himself a states’ rights advocate on the question.

Nonetheless, his initial signal on the North Carolina law marked a new phase in the campaign. As voting moved to Northeastern states with fewer evangelicals, Trump spoke much less about religion and his evangelical love affair. Among his winks to social moderates: praise for Planned Parenthood for having done “very good work for many, many — for millions of women.”

Trump’s comments on immigrants, political correctness and Muslims suggest he is far more anti-multicultural than he is pro-religion. He talks more about symbols and public icons than about faith or morals. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” he said last October. “The ‘Happy Holiday’ you can leave over there at the corner.”

It’s an empty promise, since no president could force “every store” in America to give a Christian greeting. But the fact that he chose to make the media-driven Christmas wars a centerpiece of his argument to Christians shows that his real engagement is with identity politics, not religion.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 2, 2016

June 5, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Rebranding Efforts Are Doomed”: The Far-Right Pundits Tasked With Moderating The Iowa GOP

Conservative media figures that embody messages of misogyny and hate will take center stage at a GOP candidate forum in Iowa, despite the party’s own acknowledgment that future electoral victories hinge upon the development of a more tolerant platform.

After Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee drafted a series of recommendations on how to evolve and grow the party into a force that can win consistently in the 21st century. To a large extent, the plan recommended reaching out to women and minorities, after Democrats won both groups by healthy margins that year. The RNC report recommended “developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women.” It went on to suggest that the party needs “to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.”

But in a move that seems in total opposition to those recommendations, the Iowa Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, as well as Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have chosen to partner with Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, radio host Steve Deace, and The Family Leader, an anti-gay organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats, to conduct a forum for the candidates on April 25.

Despite his role as “moderator” for the event, Erickson’s far-right views on women and minorities are anything but moderate. Erickson has argued that businesses that serve gay couples are “aiding and abetting” sin, that proposed anti-discrimination laws are part of a war on Christians waged by “evil” gay rights activists, and that marriage equality is akin to incest. According to the pundit, gay people are definitely “on the road to hell.”

In fact, Erickson is scheduled to appear at an event for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on the night before the candidate forum. The ADF, whose work has been touted by Erickson, is an extreme anti-gay organization working to criminalize homosexuality. The event is billed as “An Evening with Erick Erickson,” making him a de facto spokesman for a group whose stances are so extreme even some of Erickson’s peers at Fox News have distanced themselves from them.

Erickson’s relationship with women’s issues is just as offensive — he is particularly hostile to the idea that women should help support a family financially. Erickson stated on his radio show in 2013 that “some women believe they can have it all, and that’s the crux of the problem,” and told Fox host Lou Dobbs that the recent increase in the number of female breadwinners is “concerning and troubling.” He elaborated on this point, saying, “When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.”

But it’s not just Erickson. The Republican candidate forum will also feature a post-forum focus group moderated by radio host and Washington Times columnist Steve Deace.

Deace maintains strong anti-gay and anti-immigrant views. Most recently, he penned a column suggesting that President Obama and the media were using the story of Michael Sam, an openly gay NFL prospect from the University of Missouri, as an excuse to distract attention away from the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. He has also compared gay marriage to bank robbery and strongly opposes proposals like the DREAM Act that would aid longtime immigrant children in obtaining a college education.

And the forum itself is presented by The Family Leader, whose president Bob Vander Plaats has called gay people a “public health risk,” likened being gay to adultery and polygamy, and is a vocal supporter of the fringe birther movement.

If right-wing hate mongers like Erickson and Deace continue to be chosen to represent the party, GOP rebranding efforts are likely doomed.

 

By: Brian Powell, Media Matters For America, April 16, 2014

April 17, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newt Gingrich Makes Dumb Marriage Pledge

Callista Gingrich can breathe a sigh of relief—Newt has pledged not to cheat on her. Sure he presumably made such a pledge before God when they exchanged marital vows, but now Newt is making his promise before a higher power, a social conservative group called The Family Leader.

Per Politico,  Gingrich initially declined to sign Family Leader’s pledge on marriage  and abortion over the summer, but has, in his own Newt way, signed on by  way of a lengthy letter supporting the various stipulations of the marriage pledge. He writes in part:

I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal  fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.

As a general matter, the proliferation of signed campaign pledges  (including the godfather of them all, Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes  pledge) is generally pernicious. The only pledge an office-holder should  be bound by is his or her vow to support and defend the Constitution.  Other iron clad pledges only serve to circumscribe the options available  when a pol leaves the campaign trail and has to actually govern.

But even in the spectrum of signed pledges, this one is dumb. Put aside for a moment the fact that a politician’s personal life is frankly irrelevant and unrelated to actual policies.

Suppose for a moment that you believe the state of a politician’s  marriage is actually relevant to his or her fitness for office. Does  anyone honestly believe that Gingrich (or any other politician) will  pull himself back from the brink of cheating because it would mean  breaking his vow … to The Family Leader?

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, December 13, 2011

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Presidential Contenders Compete To Win Over “The Political Army Of The Lord”

Workers remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building after Superior Court Justice Roy Moore refused to take it down in 2003

So you can add another car to the crazy train that is the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. No, I’m not talking about last week’s sensation, Donald Trump. He’s a pretty conventional figure compared to the latest would-be president, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is currently barnstorming through Iowa after announcing an exploratory committee.

You may remember Judge Moore as the man who was forced from his judicial post after refusing to remove a gigantic monument to the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. He was also known for abrasive comments from the bench about homosexuality as contrary to God’s will, which in Moore’s opinion was dispositive. A martyr for theocrats everywhere, Moore spent some time hauling his monument around Alabama before launching two notably unsuccessful gubernatorial races — coming in a bad second in 2006’s Republican primary and a bad fourth in 2010 — and becoming a minor fixture at tea party events.

Moore was undoubtedly drawn to Iowa by that state’s furor over same-sex marriage, decreed legal by a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling. Iowa’s powerful Christian Right movement has made overturning that decision Job One, beginning with a successful effort in 2010 to remove three of the seven jurists responsible for it. It’s one of the few places left where Republicans don’t try to ignore the whole issue of gay rights as a divisive loser of an issue (which is why presidential wannabees like Tim Pawlenty have anachronistically come out against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell). For Moore, it must have felt more like “home” than home.

Before writing off Moore as a kook trying to horn in on the spotlight of a presidential race, consider the company he’s keeping on his tour of the first-in-the-nation-caucuses state: former state legislator Danny Carroll. Carroll was co-chairman (with three-time gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats) of Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 Caucus campaign, and more recently, signed on as a lobbyist for Vander Plaats’ new Christian Right umbrella group, The Family Leader. He’s a reasonably big deal in Iowa GOP circles, and by no means someone who howls at the moon.

For all I know, Carroll sees something in the crusty Alabama judge that others haven’t seen. Or maybe Judge Moore is a convenient stalking horse for Huckabee, designed to keep The Faithful loose and out of anyone else’s camp, in case Huck ultimately decides to run.

Regardless of Carroll’s (or Moore’s) personal motives, it’s likely the national Republican chattering class will dismiss the Judge’s campaign as a joke even worse than Trump’s. Or, it may be said, there is now such a crowd on the far right that opportunities are opening up for more moderate possibilities like Romney, T-Paw or an establishment-backed candidate-yet-to-be-named.

But I’d like to suggest another theory: the Christian/tea party right in Iowa is big enough, powerful enough, and politically sophisticated enough to hold its own caucus-within-a-caucus (well, caucuses, to be technical about it), an intramural contest to determine which candidate will actually represent the cause when Iowa Republicans make their final commitments before Caucus Night. Proven zealots like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and now Moore, will joust with more suspect supplicants like T-Paw, Newt Gingrich — and maybe even Donald Trump! — over the next few months, with someone emerging as the designated favorite of the political army of the Lord. That is arguably what happened in Iowa in 2008, when Huckabee and Sen. Sam Brownback fought to become the Christian Right alternative to Mitt Romney, with Huckabee becoming The Man only after he out-organized Brownback at the State Party Straw Poll in Ames during the summer.

Moore’s candidacy may not ultimately have any direct influence on what happens next winter in Iowa, when conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics get together to shape the 2012 Republican nominating process.

But he could indeed intensify the competition for Christian Right voters. And just as importantly, he could definitely serve as a symbol of the ideological and psychological gap between rigorous conservative activists and the mainstream political commentariat. Most of the latter think Moore is a crazy person. But most of the Iowa audiences before which Moore speaks will consider him an authentic if polarizing voice expressing the Word of God. That’s a pretty big gulf in perception, but also a pretty good reflection of the real differences Americans experience in how they view their leaders.

By: Ed Kilgore, Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist and Senior Editor, Progressive Policy Institute. Article published in The Atlantic, April 20, 2011: Photo by Tami Chappell (Reuters)

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Politics, Religion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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