The religious right has always had an awkward relationship with the Republican Party. Prior to the Bush years, party regulars wanted their votes, but also regarded them as the kooks of the party and threw them a limited number of bones when in office. Their influence grew when one of their own became president in 2001. Since then it has become clear that, unless they change their ways, the Republican Party is on a path to extinction outside of the deep south and scattered other bible belts. This became painfully obvious to Republican leaders after the 2012 election. Now that the party is trying to change their appearance (but unfortunately too few policies), the religious right is getting nervous:
Some leaders of the religious right are openly worried this week after a sprawling 98-page report released by the Republican National Committee on how the party can rebuild after its 2012 implosion made no mention of the GOP’s historic alliance with grassroots Christian “value voters.”
Specifically, the word “Christian” does not appear once in the party’s 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word “church.” Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found. There is nothing about the need to protect religious liberty, or promote Judeo-Christian values in society. And the few fleeting suggestions that the party coordinate with “faith-based communities” — mostly in the context of minority outreach — receive roughly as much space as the need to become more “inclusive” of gays.
To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.
“The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. “You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.”
Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a “namby-pamby” abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.
The Republicans have problems both with the viewpoint of the religious right and with the political ramifications of ignoring them. The word “Christian” or any other religious label should not be in a political party’s blueprint, at least if they respect the Founding Fathers and the principle of separation of church and state which this country was founded on. Protecting religious liberty and promoting religious views are mutually exclusive to those who understand what religious liberty means. Of course to the religious right, freedom of religion means their freedom to impose their religious views upon others.
I suspect that even some Republicans understand this, but they also fear what will happen to the party if they lose the grassroots support from the religious right, and if they stay home on election day.
Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC, said the party had no intention of distancing itself from its religious base.
“They are a critical part of our party, and moving forward, they have to continue to play that essential role,” Spicer said. “The goal of the report was to look at areas where we could do much better, and in areas that needs that substantial improvement [working with conservative Christians] may not be at the top of the list because they’ve always done a fabulous job.”
Spicer also insisted that while the GOP hopes to expand its coalition, “the principles in the party are sound” and would not be abandoned. Asked whether opposition to same-sex marriage was among those principles, he said, “Yes.”
Even if the Republicans tone down social issues during campaigns, this does not mean things will change should they win. Some in the religious right are outraged by the report, but others realize that Republicans will promote the same policies on social issues:
On the other hand, Ralph Reed, director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a former campaign adviser to George W. Bush, defended the RNC report, and the establishment leaders who spearheaded it.
“I know most of the members of the committee,” he said. “Some of them are personal friends of mine. I know Reince Priebus. He’s a deeply committed Christian. He’s pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-family… and the Republican Party is going to stay that way.”