The New York Times asks whether the obviously non-evangelical Republican frontrunners should lead us to conclude that evangelicals have lost their sway in the G.O.P. For a variety of reasons, none of the panelists endorses that conclusion.
On the social issues—regardless of their checkered pasts—none of the leading candidates strays seriously from the concerns conservative evangelicals have articulated. While some might have wondered in the past what was the matter with Kansas, there’s never really been any solid evidence that evangelical voters didn’t care about economic issues. That their voting behavior didn’t conform to the expectations of left-wing economic determinists is less evidence of false consciousness than of a strong cultural strand of self-reliance and a healthy distrust of government (one that, to be sure, isn’t shared by all evangelicals).
Finally, the prospect of four more years of President Obama—even if he is checked somewhat by a Republican-controlled Congress—might well be enough to force otherwise “idealistic” voters to take considerations of electability most seriously. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t believe that a President Obama unconstrained by the need occasionally to make centrist gestures to win reelection will tack even harder to the left, relying, if need be, on unilateral executive action when Congress won’t go along? What’s more, if Obamacare becomes an accomplished fact, is there anyone who doesn’t believe that the regulations it carries in its train won’t be hostile to the “culture of life.”?
Yes, some of the Republicans might seem a little squishy at times, but consider the alternative.
The Times can wish all it wants. Socially conservative evangelicals will remain a crucial part of the Republican coalition.
Joseph Knippenberg is Professor of Politics at Oglethorpe University.