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Saturday, October 07, 2006

GOP Losing the Religious Right -- Will They Have a Third Party Problem in '08?

The religious right has been experiencing a split for some time now. Issues like same sex marriage and abortion still unite most of what's referred to as the 'evangelical right', but other issues are creeping in and disagreements about priorities has taken a toll. Aggravating the situation for those who'd use 'value voters' as their ace card at the polls are high profile scandals in Washington, the Iraq war, a debate over torture, and issues that have been seen -- until now -- as secular concerns, such as global warming and net neutrality.

As evangelical opinions become more diverse, the Republican party -- historically the party of choice for the religious right -- are having a harder time reaching the 'values voters' they've come to rely on. In fact, it's looking like GOP can't count on the voters as much as they could before and it's making November look pretty bleak for the GOP.

As I said, there are a lot of factors here, but the Mark Foley harassment scandal may have been the final straw.

Washington Post:

ANOKA, Minn. -- Lynn Sunde, an evangelical Christian, is considering what for her is a radical step. Come November, she may vote for a Democrat for Congress.

Sunde, 35, manages a coffee shop and attends a nondenominational Bible church. "You're never going to agree with one party on everything, so for me the key has always been the religion issues -- abortion, the marriage amendment" to ban same-sex unions, she said.

That means she consistently votes Republican. But, she said, she is starting to worry about the course of the Iraq war, and she finds the Internet messages from then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to teenage boys "pretty sickening." When she goes into the voting booth this time, she said, "I'm going to think twice. . . . I'm not going to vote party line as much as to vote issues."

Sunde represents a shift in the movement. You can only take people so far left or right before many of them begin to drift back toward the center. The Post article tells us, "A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base." They still have a majority of evangelicals, but a 21% drop is a hemorrhage -- the movement is bleeding out quickly and Foley's only making it worse. "Even before the Foley scandal, the portion of white evangelicals with a 'favorable' impression of the Republican Party had fallen sharply this year, from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to Pew polls."

In my opinion, part of the growing problem is that the leaders of the evangelical movement have been shown to be transparently partisan in the wake of the Foley scandal.

Evangelical Right:

[Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals] Richard Cizic, finally addressed Foleygate on NPR. Turns out, the leaders of the largest coalition of evangelicals in America, the NAE, are willing to give Hastert "a break." Evidently, being the key player in the cover-up of a sexual predator is no big deal:

"I give Mr. Hastert a break here and say he did what he probably should have done."

"There are other issues that will impact their vote, but I'm not sure this one will"

Other religious right leaders have been as partisans as well, placing blame for the scandal anywhere but with House leadership. Both quotes from Right Wing Watch:

[Focus on the Family leader James] Dobson, 71, a child psychologist, said Tuesday had been "a hard day" because of fallout from the abrupt resignation on Friday of former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., after the disclosure of e-mails and lurid instant messages he sent to former congressional pages.

"I've had 50 requests for interviews," Dobson said. "You can see the media salivating.

"Neither party has a cornerstone on morality," Dobson said, "but if it were Democrats, it would have a very different feel."


"'Republicans have formed a circular firing squad and they’re firing away,' said [Pat] Robertson. He called the internal furor in the GOP 'insane' and added that the best thing they could do would be to say 'well, this man’s gay; he does what gay people do and so don’t worry about it.' Robertson also claimed that the scandal would not cost Republicans votes because 'the church people understand forgiveness, they understand sin.'"

Among religious right leaders, there have been virtually no calls for accountability for GOP leaders who'd looked the other way while Foley pursued underage kids. Blame is placed anywhere but with the party. It's hard to see how this could be seen as anything other than partisanship and PR spin. It's certainly not honest and honesty is a value that values voters, well, value.

Another part of the problem is that Republicans talk a good game, but have consistently failed to deliver. "[T]here are questions about just how energized [values] voters will be this time around, given their disappointment that the congressional Republicans haven't produced the results--new laws significantly restricting abortion or banning same-sex marriage--for which these voters had hoped," the Chicago Tribune reports.

Whenever I talk to someone who votes along the religious right lines, I always ask, "How's voting Republican been working for you? Got abortion illegal yet? How about same sex marriage? Did you get Darwin out of schools and prayer in?" Apparently, a lot of voters are asking themselves these same questions. They vote Republicans in on issues like abortion, same sex marriage, and evolution, then Republicans deliver lopsided tax cuts, torture, and war.

And the GOP really has no one to blame for their inaction on issues their base demands. Bush made a big deal about a 'mandate' to reform Social Security after running on terrorism and gay marriage. Social Security privatization was the farthest thing from Bush voters' minds. Despite his claim to a 'mandate', his scheme had pretty much zero popular support and died the death it deserved.

Meanwhile, rightwing evangelicals were left asking, "What the hell?" It's nothing new, the GOP has been running this bait and switch game with its base for years, but they've always been able to blame Democrats for blocking these issues. With Republicans in control of the legislative and executive branches of federal government, christian right voters had every reason to expect that their agenda would finally be addressed. But, after voting for Jesus they got Ayn Rand. Disappointment is probably not a strong enough word for how they must've felt.

If things continue, I suspect that the GOP will face a Ross-Perot-type third party problem again in '08. They can't continue to pretend to represent the religious right without the religious right wising up and demanding that they be represented in fact. The Republican party will always find business interests more compelling than religious interests -- they go where the money is. Men like James Dobson may pull in the voters, but men like Kenneth Lay call the shots. The evangelical right may decide that the time has come to represent themselves.


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cyber_rigger said...

There are more directions than just "Left" and "Right".

Take a look at the Libertarian party.

Wisco said...

It's a little hard to see libertarianism -- which supports same sex marriage and opposes drug and pornography laws -- as being much of a player for religious right types.

The RR is about restriction of rights, not expansion.

Anonymous said...

This is a two party system of government in the United States, so all the other 3rd parties in the "hinterland" will not be viable until you do what the Republican party did in the 1850's...BECOME VIABLE TO EVERYDAY AMERICANS.

As it is now...the 3rd parties are narrow offshoots from the Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats problems has been the inablility to compromise issues within and so are left runs off and forms these 3rd parties (example the Green Party_) with only less then 2% of voters supporting their adgenda...instead of forces movement toward their position, they think...oooohhhhh lets form a 3rd party.

Well I hope they love what they accomplished...nothing except lose valuable grounds to their opposition.