Monday, February 18, 2008

Evangelicals in Exile

Remember how I've noted on occasion that base conservatives have become increasingly marginalized this election. Well, here's an early post-mortem on the far-right evangelical movement's failure to elect its nominee of choice this year.

From Dan Gilgoff,
over at USA Today:

As co-founder of the blog Evangelicals for Mitt, Nancy French spent the better part of the past two years trying to persuade fellow born-again Christians to back a Mormon for president. A Tennessee-based author whose main job is raising two kids while her Army reservist husband serves in Iraq, French knew she had her work cut out when she launched the blog in 2006. After all, it wasn't so long ago that French herself considered the idea of voting for a Mormon more or less sacrilegious.

But after learning of what she calls Mitt Romney's "heroic effort" to combat gay marriage as the governor of Massachusetts, where the state supreme court had legalized it in 2003, about his opposition to abortion rights and federally funded embryonic stem cell research — the product of an admittedly recent ideological conversion — and his stances on issues such as terrorism, French was won over.

"My heart changed," she says....

Romney's withdrawal from the presidential race this month testified to French's failure to persuade enough evangelicals to see things her way. In the Super Tuesday primaries, a handful of evangelical-rich Southern states that Romney was banking on went instead
to Mike Huckabee, an ordained evangelical preacher, while John McCain's victories elsewhere established him as the national front-runner.
But as Huck's not looking to be the nominee, French is dejected:

"We got used to having one of our own in the White House for eight years" — George W. Bush — "when in reality, that's not the way the Christian right usually operates," says French. "That's why we haven't had Alan Keyes in the White House."

Or Pat Robertson. Or Gary Bauer. As presidential candidates, evangelical religious leaders have always found it difficult to break out of their born-again base. So French and millions of other evangelicals are now forced to decide whether they'll hold their noses and vote for McCain in November. If Romney runs again in four years, French says, she might resurrect Evangelicals for Mitt. Until then, she's thinking about changing its name to Evangelicals in Exile.
Captain Ed put some of this in perspective:

The problem the Religious Right had in this primary was the hang-up over religion, which their movement had avoided for most of its period of influence. In the end, their leaders couldn't see past religion to policy, and that left Romney twisting in the wind....

They got used to having an evangelical in the White House and didn't want to consider supporting any other kind of candidate. Dobson and Tony Perkins announced last year that they might form a third party for evangelicals because of their dissatisfaction with the slate of Republican candidates -- even though the first primaries were months out and they could have found Republicans to support around the country.

When they finally engaged with Romney, they liked his agenda and his ability to organize. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani, but most evangelical leaders lined up behind Romney, but refused to support Romney rather than just attack everyone else. They could not bring themselves to explain why Romney's Mormonism shouldn't matter, and indeed emphasized their analysis of it as a non-Christian religion, something Mormons hotly dispute. They lost sight of the political agenda and instead got tripped by their doctrinal agenda.

Their constituents simply didn't follow them at the polls. Instead, they voted for Mike Huckabee in Iowa and in the South. The voters followed the leadership's obvious desire to see an evangelical in the White House rather than the focus on policy -- and then discovered that evangelicals still represent only a portion of the Republican vote. Huckabee couldn't convince non-evangelicals to turn out in large numbers, and that left the field to John McCain.

Now Dobson wants to compound his error and that of his movement by petulantly sitting out the 2008 election. He's free to do so, of course, but he's losing credibility by the day. We're not electing a Pope or a Minister-in-Chief. James Dobson and the evangelical movement used to understand that, and their failure to remember it makes them an unreliable coalition partner for Republicans.
Unreliable coalition partners?

Evangelicals aren't the only ones. The conservative talk radio constituency - whose members are fired up about McCain's alleged apostasies on global warming, immigration and coercive interrogations - are also becoming
increasingly marginalized.

You can still see
some kicking and screaming, but at some point most on the right - who aren't afficted by MDS - will be hopping on the Straight Talk Express to high-tail it out of the political wilderness.