Are Iowa's conservative evangelicals irrelevant?

December 9, 2011

Like a lot of people, Paul Waldman finds this Rick Perry ad ridiculous:


Waldman's right, of course. He's also right that this bald play for Iowa's conservative evangelicals isn't likely to work. But his explanation as to why is disappointing:

As ridiculous as [the video's] claims sound, the voters Perry is pleading with absolutely believe them to be true. And this is the most direct attempt by any of the candidates to go after those votes, to say to Christian conservatives, "I will be your sectarian candidate." You hate gays? I'm your man. You want America to be more Christian? Come on board.

But it is obviously not going to work, and not just because Perry has been such a desperately poor candidate. Circumstances have conspired to make the religious right -- as a distinct political entity that can be mobilized in unison during the primary -- essentially irrelevant. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee was able to ride evangelical support to victory in the Iowa caucus. But today, Newt Gingrich -- converted Catholic, thrice-married, admitted adulterer -- is way out in front among Iowa evangelicals, pretty much matching his support with Republicans as a whole. And there doesn't look to be anything Rick Perry can do about it.

There's a sort of dualism that comes up when political commentators talk about conservative evangelicals: either they're powerful and unflappable advocates for the couple of causes we've always associated with them, or they don't really exist as a voting bloc at all. But reality is, as usual, grayer: conservative evangelicals are a distinct interest group that's also made up of individual people.

Maybe some of them appreciate Gingrich's ability to articulate the narrative of a Christian America in a bit more detail than Perry's 30-second pander. Maybe some share his relative moderation on immigration policy--and maybe even those who don't share it appreciate that he's expressed his views a bit more consistently than Perry has. And maybe a lot of them, like the rest of us, are preoccupied with economic issues right now (whether or not they're pushing biblical theories to support the status quo).

And is it possible that conservative evangelicals are smart enough to resist being manipulated by someone like Perry, who has shown repeatedly in this campaign that he doesn't really know what the hell he's doing?


Conservative Evangelicals

Just read a great explanation of this problem by N.T. Wright. Paraphrasing, Wright explained how wrong we are to go with the Left/Right dichotomy in politics to try to explain how a group of people is goiong to vote. Each side is made up of individuals and to try to say all of us Evangelicals are somehow packaged into one little group is ridiculous, as it is on the Left. Frankly, none of the candidates for President represent my views. If someone else does not step up I will hold my nose and vote for whoever is running against President Obama as I feel anyone would be a better candidate. Although I would have to admit I do not think I could bring myself to vote for Gingrich. Reminds me too much of former President Nixon.

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