Evangelicals — A Drag on or Essential to the GOP?
November 20, 2008
A good friend of mine (let’s call him Bob) is convinced that unless the GOP puts abortion “aside as its focal point, it simply cannot win and regain power.” That’s especially interesting in light of Kathleen Parker’s latest column, which disses the evangelical wing of the GOP.
Bob’s point is that “we’ve lost a majority of women over this issue as they have become one-issue voters.” It’s not only liberal women but also others who believe it’s simply not the government’s business.
Kathleen Parker broadens the point considerably beyond abortion: “The evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.” Since the 1980s or so, says Parker, the GOP “has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners. … The GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents.”
I’ll resist the temptation to respond specifically to Kathleen’s uncharitable indictment of us knuckle draggers because I like Kathleen personally and because I want to respond to her and Bob’s overlapping contention that certain social conservatives are dragging the party down.
Bob’s opinion is largely based on his personal conversations with women, and Kathleen writes, “If one were to eavesdrop on private conservations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that … armband religion is killing the Republican Party.” But do their anecdotal reports justify their conclusions?
2004 exit poll data reveal that President Bush got 55 percent of the male vote and 48 percent of the female vote, while 2008 data show that McCain got 48 percent of the male vote and 43 percent of the female vote. McCain’s percentage of the male vote dropped more than his percentage of the female vote, so it’s hard to see how alienated women made the difference.
Plus Karl Rove tells us that there were 4.1 million fewer Republicans voting this year than in 2004, some of whom he believed turned independent or Democratic for this election, which might validate Kathleen’s thesis, except that Rove says that most of those 4.1 million “simply stayed home.”
What’s even more interesting is there was an almost identical drop-off (4.1 million) of those voters who attend religious services more than once a week (evangelicals, anyone?).
I’m thinking Bob needs to avoid angry women, and Kathleen should steer clear of those intelligentsia types, for there is another 2008 exit poll gem they might not have seen. Top issues for voters were: economy (63 percent); war in Iraq (10 percent); terrorism (9 percent); and health care (9 percent). It appears that neither abortion nor any other social issue even made honorable mention.
It’s not debatable that Obama had a vastly superior organization and “ground game” and did an infinitely better job than McCain of marketing himself and inspiring voters with his charisma and his nebulous message of hope and change. Despite all these advantages, McCain — largely because of the jolt of enthusiasm he injected into his anemic campaign by naming the conspicuously pro-life Christian Sarah Palin his running mate — was surging ahead in the national polls right before the subprime meltdown reared its game-changing head. Though Democratic policies and actions mostly caused it, Republicans got the blame — and McCain was finished.
Considering all those unique factors in 2008, it’s premature to say this election represents the emergence of a sustained national power shift in favor of the Democrats — though admittedly, current demographic trends are problematic for the GOP.
But if social issues were so advantageous for Obama, why did he hide and distort his record on abortion? Why did he not brag about the liberal activist judges he is sure to appoint? Why did he attempt — other than when he thought his microphone was off in San Francisco — to paint himself as a mainstream Christian who wants to reduce abortions? Why did mainstream media debate moderators deliberately avoid these issues?
I believe Kathleen is wrong in saying “either the Republican Party needs a new base — or the nation may need a new party.” The opposite is true: The party needs to quit betraying the base, on both social and economic issues.
I do believe some of my fellow Christian conservatives are too single issue-oriented and am appalled that so many stayed home, given the gravity of the stakes in this election. But the fact remains that it was McCain’s underemphasis rather than overemphasis of the social issues that cost him Republican votes.
But the far more important answer to Bob and Kathleen is that the Republican Party can no more do without pro-lifers than human beings can survive without hearts. It’s who they are. There’s already a party stressing economic conservatism nearly to the exclusion of social issues, and the last time I checked, our beloved Libertarians weren’t garnering a great percentage of the vote.