Conventional Wisdom Watch: Getting it Wrong about the Religious Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jan 28, 2016 at 09:05:22 PM EST
It is a case of the more things change the more things stay the same. I wrote a short post in 2008 about how wrong the media and the pundit class can sometimes be when discussing political endorsements by Christian Right leaders. (I am reposting that piece after the jump.) Sometimes what social scientists and psychologists call confirmation bias rules punditocratic thinking when it comes to the Christian Right. (Confirmation bias is the tendency to see or acknowledge information that confirms one's beliefs while giving disproportionately less consideration to facts that point to or even prove alternatives.) Sometimes confirmation bias is so profound that it deeply skews good reporting, scholarship, and political analysis. This problem may once again become a major feature of the presidential campaign this year.

There has recently been a great deal of head scratching about the meaning of presidential campaign endorsements by various Christian Right leaders. This quadrennial exercise is almost always much more obtuse than is necessary. A few quick observations: The Religious Right has never been monolithic, religiously or politically. As a movement it is has always been divided in election years among the presidential candidates, with the exception of when George W. Bush ran unopposed for his second term. Major candidates with arguably major flaws from a conservative evangelical perspective have been supported through the primaries and general election, drawing varying degrees of leadership and popular support. John McCain and Mitt Romney to name two obvious examples. The thrice married, pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ rights former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was supported by Ralph Reed in 2012. Pat Robertson supported him in 2008. And so on.

Nevertheless, this time there is great consternation about Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement of Donald Trump. But there is less here than meets the eye. That some prominent leaders would take a chance and endorse the front runner for the GOP nomination, even if seen as opportunistic, should come as no surprise. Marco Rubio has been endorsed by Rick Warren and Samuel Rodriguez. Ted Cruz has been endorsed by Tony Perkins and James Dobson. David Barton runs a Cruz related super-Pac. Huckabee has far fewer major Christian Right endorsements than last time, but he does enjoy the support of Tim LaHaye and Jim Garlow.

Things change, but in important ways it has always been like this. Donald Trump is certainly unlike any candidate we have seen. But what that means for the always deeply divided evangelical community and the broader Christian Right is a different set of questions than many in the media and the pundit class seem to think. -- FC


I have noted from time to time on this site, when pundits of various sorts get basic facts wrong, and engage in skewed analysis about the religious right.

Political scientist Laura Olsen has an an interesting take on the Huckabee campaign over at the Neiman Foundation web site today, February 1st. One of the most interesting aspects is a glaring inaccuracy:

"...none of the old lions of the Religious Right endorsed Huckabee. In perhaps the oddest development of all, Robertson himself endorsed the pro-choice, thrice-married Giuliani.

None of the old lions of the religious right have endorsed Huckabee except, that is, for televangelists James Robison and Ken Copeland, Don Wildmon head of the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell Jr., (current president of Liberty University and other of his late father's enterprises,) Rick Scarborough head of Vision America; David Barton head of WallBuilders; Tim and Beverly LaHaye -- and well, almost all of the "old lions" of the Religious Right --- except for the handful that went to other candidates; and James Dobson and his minions that remain uncommitted. Dobson, incidentally, has only endorsed a presidential candidate once -- and that was George W. Bush's uncontested 2004 reelection campaign. His lack of an endorsement, and general crankiness about presidential candidates, is utterly normal.

Some leaders of Focus on the Family state political affiliates, however, have endorsed Huckabee, including Michael Heath, head of the Christian Civic League of Maine, Jerry Cox, President of Arkansas Family Council, and Karen Testerman, Director of Cornerstone Policy Research, in New Hampshire. There may very well be more.

Some of these, and many more were announced in a Huckabee campaign press release last year. These are things that could be learned with only a few minutes of Googling and poking around the Huckabee campaign site.

As it happens, religious right leaders such as Rick Scarborough and Tim LaHaye have been active trying to help Huck overcome his financial disadvantages in the race  through a series of private fundraisers and campaign events.

Coincidentally, Americans United for Separation of Church and State just yesterday announced:  

The Internal Revenue Service should investigate two prominent tax-exempt Religious Right groups that produced biased voter guides for the presidential election, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In complaints filed today with the IRS, Americans United charged that voter guides produced by the American Family Association and WallBuilders are clearly designed to promote Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The guides, posted on the groups' Web sites, list the Republican candidates and their alleged stands on a range of issues, such as support for a human life amendment, "traditional marriage," "business freedom" and "moral education" and opposition to "gay pride." Only Huckabee is assigned a "yes" stance on all of the issues.

AU Executive Director Barry Lynn said:  

"I am particularly outraged that these voter guides indicate that they are suitable for use in churches and other tax-exempt organizations,"..."In fact, they are not. Any church that distributes these biased guides is risking its tax exemption and casting aside its integrity."

So. Let the record show that those are organizations headed by Don Wildmon and David Barton, respectively:  Long time national Religious Right leaders who have endorsed Mike Huckabee; and are in the news because of their campaign-related activities on his behalf.

Let's also be clear that while religious right leaders have been backing different horses in the presidential primary this is noting new. Religious Right leaders have always been divided in contested presidential primaries. But this year, Mike Huckabee has the lion's share of the endorsements from the old lions of the religious right. How much good it does him, remains to be seen.  

Fred, you missed Michael Farris ! (Just kidding, and I'm not sure Farris has openly endorsed Huick or not).

"Interesting" is one very politely circumspect way of putting this.

As far as Huck's chances, weeel... I wouldn't rule him out as VP pick.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Feb 01, 2008 at 02:54:10 PM EST

Farris has endorsed Huck. As a matter of fact, I thought I had included him in the list. In any case, he is mentioned in the campaign press release linked to in the text. Farris was among the original group of religious endorsers of Huck's campain last November.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 01, 2008 at 02:59:03 PM EST

McCain the pres, Huck the VP. We get the General in Dr. Strangelove, then the prototypical pious crook.

by NancyP on Fri Feb 01, 2008 at 03:00:51 PM EST
and we get Mr. "Change the Constitution."

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