The religious right are crazy. That was the big news broken by conservative columnist Kathleen Parker yesterday. For those of us who've been watching the right wing evangelical movement for decades, this revelation didn't come as much of a shock. In her column, Parker called the religious fanatics on the Republican side of the aisle "the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP."
"Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party," she wrote. "And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that."
But this is a party that has made intellectualism a criminal offense called "elitism." Deep thinkers are not welcome, mostly because they tell uncomfortable truths. The party has made heroes of reactionary dopes who do a "gut check" to make their decisions -- George W. Bush and Sarah Palin both come to mind. The GOP has become a party of high-concept thinkers; if the explanation for a position won't fit on a bumpersticker, it's too complicated. Smarty-pants know-it-alls are not welcome. This has gone beyond anti-intellectualism and has become anti-intellect.
"[T]he GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows," said Parker. "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."
The Republican party has bent over backwards to please the religious nuts, especially during the Bush years. And this super-service of the white Christian base has alienated other bases. In 2000, Bush owned the Muslim vote -- a traditionally conservative demographic that responds well to family-centered messaging. But the religious right has made a habit of demonizing Islam and away went the Muslim vote.
In the end, if you're not a white evangelical, you're not a real Republican. In fact, you're not even a real American. All that Sarah Palin campaign talk about a "Real America" had a basis. That's who the Republican party represents -- to the exclusion of all others -- and that's the problem. As America becomes more diverse, the political power of this bloc of voters declines.
Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, explains the problem in a very wonky piece.
The decline in the proportion of married white Christians in the American electorate has been going on for a long time. Moreover, the large generational difference in the prevalence of married white Christians in the contemporary electorate suggests that this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. What cannot be predicted as confidently is how party leaders will respond to this trend. Right now, Democrats appear likely to benefit from a continued decline in the proportion of married white Christians in the electorate because this group has strongly supported Republican candidates in recent elections while voters who are not married white Christians have strongly supported Democratic candidates.
As America becomes more diverse, the percentage of the population that makes up the Republican base has nosedived. Where married white Christians made up nearly 80% of the adult population in the '50s, it's declined to less than 50% today. Meanwhile, the demographics of the GOP have gone in the opposite direction. In the '50s, married white Christians made up just over 40% of all Republicans -- today they make up more than 60%. As the nation becomes less white and less Christian, the Republican party becomes more white and more Christian. I ran the numbers myself a couple of years ago and determined that Christians as a whole will become a minority religion (i.e., less than 50% of the total population) by 2030, if current demographic trends continue. By that year, there will be no majority religion in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Republican party has become the party of intolerance. Defined mainly by what they oppose, they're seen as seawall against this rising heathen tide. They may not know the numbers, but they see it happening around them. America is changing and they don't like it. What do you think all that "America is a Christian nation" stuff is about anyway? If you can't save your dominance any other way, you can try to launch some sort of revisionist narrative that makes your dominance traditional. If you can use this newly invented tradition as leverage to write your religious beliefs into law, all the better. And, when you believe that your way of life is the only possible way to be a good person, the idea of being just another minority is terrifying.
As the population changes, the Republican party becomes more homogeneous -- more white, more Christian -- as the United States becomes less white and less Christian. Being the party of white evangelicals may have worked once, but it's now making them a party of minority grievance, a regional party of the white south. Even the mountain states are bluer now.
The right is busy freaking out over Kathleen Parker's column. They should be freaking out about their future -- at least, more realistically and constructively than they have been. In August, Democratic party head Howard Dean caused a minor flap when he slipped up and referred to the Republican party as the "white party." He may have misspoken (or, more likely, unintentionally said what he was thinking), but the statement is becoming truer and truer with each election cycle.
A party based on white majority can't survive into the future. The party of religious majority can't exist in a nation of diversity. The Republican party is hampered by their reliance on those "oogedy-boogedy" white evangelicals. They may not like being told that, but it's true.
The lessons of 2006 and 2008 are clear; start losing the "party of the majority" mentality or keep losing elections.