Religious Right’s Role In GOP Questioned After November Electoral Defeats

The poor performance of the Republican Party in November’s election has led several pundits and commentators to engage in soul searching, with some asserting that it’s time to end the party’s close ties to the Religious Right.

Conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker blasted those who believe in mixing religion in politics. In a piece that ran in papers nationwide shortly after the election, Parker let loose on the “evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP” and labeled Religious Right activists an “element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.”

Parker said the Republicans’ relationship with fundamentalists is hurting its chances at the polls.

“[T]he GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows,” Parker wrote. “In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.”

She continued, “It isn’t that culture doesn’t matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party – and conservatism with it – eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.”

At the same time, former GOP New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostock, a Republican speechwriter, wrote a column calling for the party to back away from the rigid social conservatism favored by the Religious Right.

Whitman and Bostock analyzed exit-polling data and noted that “values voters” turned out in significant numbers for U.S. Sen. John McCain, but that moderates abandoned the GOP ticket.

“Following the conventional wisdom of the past two presidential elections, McCain tried mightily to assuage the Republican Party’s social-fundamentalist wing,” Whitman and Bostock noted. “His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose social views are entirely aligned with that wing, as his running mate was clearly meant to demonstrate his commitment to that bloc. Yet while his choice did comfort those voters, it made many others uncomfortable.”

Concluded Whitman and Bostock, “Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness.”

Even Cal Thomas, the former political operative who helped launch the Moral Majority, has turned against the Religious Right. In a column that appeared just three days after the election, Thomas called on conservative Christians to do more evangelizing and less politicking.

“Thirty years of trying to use government to stop abortion, preserve opposite-sex marriage, improve television and movie content and transform culture into the conservative evangelical image has failed,” Thomas said. “The question now becomes: Should conservative Christians redouble their efforts, contributing more millions to radio and TV preachers and activists, or would they be wise to try something else?”

Thomas recommended that evangelicals follow the commands of Jesus. He asked, “Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans,’ not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God’s love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?”

The Religious Right, however, has no intention of walking away quietly. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was especially incensed by Parker’s column. In a Nov. 25 column, Dobson labeled Parker “not a conservative anymore” and cited votes against same-sex marriage in three states as evidence of his moment’s potency.

“[W]e don’t need an embossed note from Ms. Parker – or anyone else – to take part in the political discourse – of either party,” Dobson wrote. “Our invitation to engage the process comes straight from our Founders. We will continue to stand up for the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the right to have a say in the principles that will continue to guide this nation founded on biblical principles.”

Americans United noted that it’s not uncommon for Republican moderates to attack the Religious Right after a defeat. The same calls were heard after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. If anything, the Religious Right emerged even stronger.