The GOP's Religious Fanatic Problem

Religious conservatives protesting pretty much everything
It wouldn't be an easy case to make to claim that the religious right is not one of the Republican Party's biggest problems right now. The best example of this would be Todd Akin, who basically threw away a senate race by offering bizarre theories about rape. It's easy to forget that he had no shortage of defenders. And he had those defenders because those theories weren't something he'd cooked up on his own, but are part of a huge steaming pile of medical misinformation about abortion coming from Christian conservatives. Among the more common lies are that abortion causes breast cancer, that it leads to depression and suicide, and that abortion is a medically dangerous procedure. For such supposedly strict adherents to Christianity, abortion opponents tend to be shameless liars.

And it's not just limited to abortion. Pretty much all of the Republican Party's War on Women moves have been religiously motivated. And they're falling behind the mainstream on other issues as well, such as support for the LGBT community and marriage equality. As our nation becomes more and more diverse, it becomes more and more tolerant by necessity. It also becomes less and less Christian -- specifically, less of a very specific, deeply intolerant, and deep pocketed strain of Christianity.

And the Republican Party establishment may be beginning to notice that.


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 imminent demise of the Christian right is almost certainly a pipe dream. At least, for now. The truth is that the GOP is still a party of very narrow religious interests. Think of the 2012 presidential campaign, when conservative commentators wondered if a Mormon would ever be considered a "real" Christian by the base and when not a single major Republican candidate was pro-choice -- not even the supposedly Libertarian Ron Paul. The Republican brand of Libertarianism has everything to do with tax cuts and money and almost nothing at all to do with actual issues of liberty. No, the religious right is wound deep around the party's roots. You're not getting rid of them simply by ignoring them.

And that's exactly the problem. Elections analyst Charlie Cook believes that the Republican Party must change to win national elections -- and that the nutjobs in the base are a big part of the problem. "Years ago, I used to attend [the Conservative Political Action Conference], mostly to listen to the speakers, and I even appeared on a panel once," Cook writes. "But as the conference grew increasingly exotic -- if possible, even more so than Iowa’s GOP presidential straw poll (which I’ve sworn to never waste time attending again) -- it became apparent that CPAC is representative of only one faction of the Republican Party, a group that national figures have to acknowledge and sometimes appear in front of, but certainly one that most don’t want to be too closely identified with."

In short, the party has to both embrace and distance themselves from the nuts; something that's becoming increasingly difficult to do. This is why the RNC's big plan for change completely ignores the religious right. But they can't keep pretending their crazy aunt doesn't live in the attic. Sooner or later, they're going to either take the hit and cut the fanatics loose or become a strictly regional party, uncompetitive in national elections for the foreseeable future.

"It may not be too melodramatic to say that over the next couple of years, the Republican Party faces a fork in the road," Cook says. "Following one path, the GOP can seek to address what has gone wrong, the narrowness of the party’s appeal, and the intolerance that has alienated so many minority, female, young, and moderate voters that Republicans have a hard time prevailing in federal races outside of carefully drawn conservative enclaves. Taking the other road could lead the party over a cliff in 2016, in much the same way Barry Goldwater led Republicans to disaster in 1964."

There is no path forward that's without sacrifice. Republicans will lose voters, no matter what they do, The question is really which voters can help them most.

"The social conservatives will quit voting," religious right leader Don Wildmon told Buzzfeed. "They'll give up, they'll be despaired. Those are the most loyal people to work for you because they're energized because they believe their cause is something God stands for and that's a pretty good motivator. And you take that away? You diss them? You tell them their issues aren't important anymore? I don't know who you're going to be left with. I think you won't have any troops out there. I don't know how many country club people will go and walk door to door over the taxes issue."

I'm tempted to say that something's gotta give here, but the truth is that something's already giving, if not already given way. If the GOP does nothing, they'll be stuck with the religious right by default and continue their downward spiral. Not making a decision is a decision in itself -- and that decision has serious consequences for the party. If they ignore their problems with religious fanatics, they're screwed now and in the long term. If they don't, they're just screwed now and maybe in the long term.

I know which choice I'd make, but I suppose that's one of the reasons why I'm not a Republican. Religious nutjobs aren't the best decision-makers. And neither are people who let themselves be led around by them.


[photo by Anuj Biyani]

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