Political Physics: Will the Christian Right Be the Death of the Republican Party?


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

As I mentioned two weeks ago in Political Physics: Is It Socialism to Care About “The Least of These?” I was talking to my friend Latoya last week about the challenge she is having with some of her Christian friends.  She is pro-health care and has found herself in intense debates with some of her friends who are firmly against a public health care option.  So I posed a question, staying on the topic of “the least of these,” how does the Republican Party reconcile their Christian conservative values, which includes helping the “least of these,” with the anti-government-intervention idea of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps?”

DebraB commented that “[she didn’t] think it’s fair to equate being anti-public healthcare with being anti-Christian. People make that same argument for people who are pro-choice.” I noted that I was not equating anti-public health care with being anti-Christian. I was simply posing a question. Isn’t there some inherent contradiction between believing in taking care of “the least of these” and the doctrine of non-reliance on government assistance?

According to a report from the Pew Forum, the Washington, DC-based religious research center, indicated that their “2004 exit poll showed that a whopping 78% of white evangelicals voted for President Bush and that they comprised 23% of the overall electorate, making them by far the single most potent voting block in the electorate.”  Moreover, an additional 9 million voters, 7 million of which identified as Catholics, voted for Bush.  The Christian Right is often credited with helping to secure George Bush’s victory in the 2004 election.

However, I believe that they were just as instrumental in McCain’s downfall in 2008.  And I am not alone.

In an article entitled, “The Christian Right Killed the Republican Party,” Jane Devin of the Huffington Post noted, “When Ronald Reagan began courting the religious right in his bid to win the Presidency, I doubt he knew he was spelling death to the lean tenets of Goldwater conservatism.  Yet soon afterward, under the thumb of right-wing religion, the Republican Party became a bloated fool, stuffed with hypocrisy, greed, and anti-intellectualism.  In 2008, the price is being paid through lost elections and a loss of public trust.” 

And in her SacramentoBee article entitled, “Religious right threatens Republican Party’s future,” Kathleen Parker takes the argument a step further when she says:

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party.  And if one were to eavesdrop on conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

Meanwhile, it isn’t necessary to surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America.  Belief in something greater than oneself has much to recommend it. But, like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.

Among Jewish voters, 78 percent went for Obama. Sixty-six percent of under-30 voters did likewise. Forty-five percent of voters ages 18-29 are Democrats compared to just 26 percent Republican; in 2000, party affiliation was split almost evenly.

The hardcore push to recruit the Christian Right that started during the Reagan era in an effort to strengthen the Republican Party has actually had the opposite effect.

According to a 2008 Pew Research Center Report, “the balance of party identification in the American electorate now favors the Democratic Party by a decidedly larger margin than in either of the two previous presidential election cycles.”  The share of voters identifying as Republicans declined six points since 2004, “and represents, on an annualized basis, the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center.”  Furthermore, “the Democratic Party has built a substantial edge among independent voters.  Of the 37% who claim no party identification, 15% lean Democratic, 10% lean Republican, and 12% have no leaning either way.

By comparison, in 2004 about equal numbers of independents leaned toward both parties.  When “leaners” are combined with partisans, however, the Democratic Party now holds a 14-point advantage among voters nationwide (51% Dem/lean-Dem to 37% Rep/lean-Rep), up from a three-point advantage four years ago.”

The divide between the traditionalists of the Republican Party – call them fiscal conservatives, Goldwater conservatives, etc. – are at odds with evangelical Christians who have become the leading voice for their party.  And whose stance on issues like abortion, gay rights, etc. threaten to alienate current and prospective members of the Republican Party.

It is that fractioning – the battle between the “”McCain” Republicans and the “Palin” Republicans – that is causing the Republican Party to implode on itself and why the party is now struggling to reinvent itself.

It is a prime example of not being able to have your cake and eat it too.

As a card carrying Democrat, I am not going to trouble myself with figuring out how to stay the tide of a diminishing Republican Party, but for those who lean more right than I do, I think you have your work cut out for you.

Kathleen Parker said it best, “…the future of the GOP looks dim and dimmer if it stays the course. Either the Republican Party needs a new base – or the nation may need a new party.”