Please allow me to slip on my political commentator hat for a few minutes if you will. At one point in my life, I was content to be known as somewhat of a political “activist” from the religious right point of view. A couple of years ago, I “retired” from that hobby believing that my time would be better spent on ministry than politics. However, my withdrawal from the activism does not mean that I am disinterested in the process whereby we select our leadership.
So, it was with attentiveness I observed the results from the Iowa caucuses last night — particularly those from the Republican side of the aisle. While I am philosophically independent politically, I’m far more likely to find candidates who identify themselves as Republicans that match the minimum basic requirements for me to want to vote for them. This cycle, I’m thus far extremely underwhelmed-to-disgusted by the choices the Grand Old Party has managed to conjure up for a run at the White House.
But as the results rolled in from Iowa, I do believe we saw something that was quite interesting unfold. Every pundit and their dyslexic cousins noted today that Iowans voted for “change” rather than “experience” this time around, so I’ll skip that obvious conclusion. Less noticeable was a message — or perhaps messages that I believe that evangelicals, values voters, the so-called Religious Right, sent last night and that’s what I want to discuss in this article.
Basically, from my perch, I see several messages that someone in the upper echelons of the Republican Party needs to read if they want to have any hope of keeping the White House this year.
Message One — Social conservativism still matters.
Huckabee is not a fiscal conservative. That’s one of the reasons I remain extremely wary of him. But when it comes down to a fiscal conservative/social liberal vs. a social conservative/fiscal moderate — the evangelical block is going to support the social conservative and by no small margin. If the Rockefeller Republicans prevail and their boy Guiliani (extreme), the “converted” Mormon alternative Romney (moderate) or the maverick McCain (conservative, but viewed as hostile to evangelicals) is given the keys to the nomination, they should not expect the evangelicals to fall into line and pull the GOP levers. Expect them to stay home or go third party — even for a nutjob like Paul. Prolife, profamily, pro-traditional marriage issues MATTER to these folks and they aren’t going to be bought off with deathbed “conversions” and a backseat on the ticket. They are simply not going to compromise on these core philosophical issues. Period. Even if the nominee is Hillary which seems to have been their silent hope, they won’t. Nominate Guiliani and watch Obama capture a shockingly significant portion of the evangelical vote.
Message Two — Compassionate Conservativism has taken root in the evangelical community.
There is a shift going on in evangelical circles. Consider Rick Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. initiative and his decision to publicly cowtow with Obama and Bono and others. Think the “Greening of Evangelicals”. Consider (alleged) evangelical liberal Tony Campolo’s harping on social activism. Those of us who live in the most conservative shadows of evangelicalism may not sense it as much as those who are part of the “new” evangelical wave of the megachurches and the sycophants of blown-dried personalities like Osteen and the Whites, but there is a move leftward when it comes to how many evangelicals view the government’s view of helping the “underprivileged” and impoverished. They are not impressed with a culture of big business hard-nosedness that sends jobs overseas, invests in high-profit/low morals industries like porn and booze for the sake of profit, and hyper-inflates CEO salaries while single moms can’t put food on the table. They may not understand the consequences of a “nanny state”, but they don’t like what they see happening either. Thus, a Huckabee message that would translate to bigger government and even higher taxes does not frighten them like it once may have.
Message Three — Don’t take evangelicals for granted.
The Reagan coalition of Country Club Republicans, working class/middle class and religious conservatives worked. But the evangelicals are more loyal to ideals than party affiliation. The Blue-Blood Republican set that summers in the Hamptons can’t win without the evangelicals and they know it. The religious right has become very astute at turning out the vote. It’s an uncomfortable marriage — but everyone has a lot at stake in keeping it together. Evangelicals will never write the big checks that the Fortune 500 guys can and most of them wouldn’t do it even if they had it — they’d give it to or through their church instead. But the CEO’s and summer-house Republicans can’t do what the evangelicals can — organize, network and get their constituency to the polls on election day in a massive way. For all the talk that the Republican subgroups are heading for divorce, they’d both better be fully cognizant that they may split the sheet, but in doing so, they’ll insure that a Democrat ends up laying in the bed. The thought of having Rudolph Guiliani in the White House is as distasteful to many Religious Conservatives as the thought of having James Dobson on the ticket would be to Arlen Spector and Olympia Snow. In their failure to groom or recruit a Reaganesque or even “Bushesque” candidate for this year’s election who is both fiscally and socially conservative (with a proven track record, who didn’t malign the leadership of a major portion of their constituency ala McCain 2004 and who isn’t from some cult where the adherents wear magic underwear and a history of polygamy and racism), they have endangered this delicate alliance and perhaps their hopes of retaining the Presidency.
There are other messages — some of them perhaps subliminal — and it is still early in the cycle, but I’ll stop with these three. Today, I happened to be in my vehicle that isn’t equipped with XM Radio and thus ended up listening to Limbaugh and his local conservative equivalent on AM for a couple of hours as I ran errands. Limbaugh has been spending so much time in Palm Beach in recent years that he now thinks a lot like the establishment Republicans. His local wannabee conservative pundit basically parroted what he was saying. Neither of them got the message as they savaged Huckabee directly and through inuendo. I’m not a particular fan of the former Arkansas Governor myself. But like those in the RNC, even the pundits are missing the point as they attack the mailman without reading the mail.
I don’t have a solution for the Republicans any more than I have a candidate that resonates with me. My interest in the spectacle of the primary process actually excites me as I view the dysfunctional dilemma that lies before both parties. Both parties may see their futures tied to who got the message the voters sent to both headquarters first.
One thing is for sure. It’s gonna’ be interesting!