Religious Right Still Unenthusiastic About McCain
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 10:56:05 AM EST
I have pounded the theme that the religious right is not dead so often that I am too bored to say it again.  But suffice to say, that the religious right has become a problem for John McCain. Not so much because there are evangelicals, particularly young people, who are disaffected with the GOP (because there are); and not so much because the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party are pursuing them (as they are) but because many serious activists are going to sit out the presidential race or work down ticket races instead.

This general idea has been promoted by longtime conservative movement leader Richard Vigeurie for a long time. He and other movement leaders argued that the GOP has "betrayed" them, and that it is time to regroup. Add to this the longstanding tensions between McCain and the religious right (and movement conservatives in general), and there is a potential electoral disaster brewing for John McCain.

That said, the evidence (as Pastordan reports; as did The New York Times recently) that there is any great white evangelical shift going on -- is thin at best.  McCain's problem at this point appears not so much to be that he is losing evangelicals as that the activists of the religious right are not in the campaign -- for two main reasons: One is that the they are unenthusiastic, and the other is that the McCain campaign has not yet done much to bring them aboard.

There is fresh evidence that this is exactly what is happening according to a remarkable report by CNN.

Early in the 2004 primary season, CNN reports that the RNC asked Michael Farris, head of Patrick Henry College and veteran religious right and religious homeschooling activist, to "mobilize his grass-roots army on behalf of President Bush's re-election effort."

In response, Farris set up an voter mobilization organization called, Generation Joshua as part of the GOP ground game.

In one three-day span, the members of Generation Joshua knocked on more than 15,000 doors in the crucial state of Pennsylvania. This year, Farris has yet to hear from the RNC or the campaign of the GOP's presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain. He has not developed any swing state strategy for the GOP. And he has no plans to start now.

"We don't feel invested in his candidacy," Farris said, "and he clearly doesn't feel invested in us."

All this is on top of McCain's many other problems with the religious right. James Dobson is certainly no fan. And McCain's spectacular renunciation of the support of prominent religious right leaders John Hagee and Rod Parsley has not gone down well with many activists.  Indeed, CNN reports that McCain's double-dumping

led to a sense of betrayal so pervasive that several leaders said it would have been better if he had never courted their backing at all.

And some groups heavily involved in Bush's 2004 campaign -- representing thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars in resources -- said they plan to sit this cycle out or turn their focus to down-ballot races. This year, they said, neither the RNC nor the McCain campaign has asked for their help.

The current debacle will undoubtedly get at least partly smoothed out over the next little while. And the several generations of skilled religious right activists that have been key to national GOP electoral fortunes since Reagan -- will no doubt find plenty of down ticket things to do if they cannot bring themselves to work for the national Republican ticket. Whatever happens, the religious right political movement is still in the game; regrouping for next time; taking a break; or working down ticket. The game has changed and the religious right is changing with it.

There isn't much evidence of downticket enthusiasm either at the moment from the religious right.  Two of the recent special elections had hard-right Republicans on the ticket in directs that went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2004 and lost, despite a load of fear mongering ads being run.

Without a far-right Republican or a Clinton on the ticket, some of the fire has definitely gone out to the religious right's belly.  Maybe it's my general pessimism, but I think it's too early to count them out just yet.  If McCain picks a right wing VP candidate who has street cred with the fundamentalists, or emphasizes his vow to appoint more anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court then he might just persuade them to turn out for him.

Then, of course, one of the slurs against Obama might find traction too.  They're certainly trying hard enough.  Sadly it's a given that many Americans can be scared into voting against their own best interests.

It may not matter if young people and African Americans turn out in force for Obama, but I just get that niggling feeling that it's not all over and done with just yet.  

by tacitus on Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 12:30:41 PM EST

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