Faith in History
An Evangelical Guide to the GOP Primary
With the first Republican primary presidential debate behind us, whom should evangelical voters support? Many American Christians, and some evangelicals, will support President Obama in 2012. Yet evangelicals remain the core constituency of the Republican Party, and many are starting to evaluate the candidates.
They should be looking for someone with at least three qualities: 1) competence in governing, with the more successful experience the better; 2) a sincere commitment to key moral and political ideals, such as the value of human life and liberty; and 3) public composure and the ability to project leadership to all Americans.
The first quality, competence, may seem too obvious to mention, but in their desire for a values-oriented, conservative Christian as President, evangelicals may sometimes forget about this issue. Job performance is one of the core problems with Barack Obama's presidency: on our biggest domestic challenges, including health care, entitlement reform, and the economy, he's simply not doing a good job. (If he handled the domestic front as well as he handled the termination of Osama Bin Laden, he would be performing very well!) We don't want to elect an ideologically pure but executively inept Republican as a replacement for President Obama.
Executive experience does not guarantee success (see Jimmy Carter), but all things being equal, it is better to choose someone with successful decision-making credentials. In the current Republican field, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Pawlenty are the standouts on this score, although some question how successful their respective governorships actually were.
The second quality is more familiar to evangelicals: the right political and moral ideals. There are many one could discuss, but the pro-life issue is at the top of the list. Mitt Romney's waffling on abortion—and his telling refusal to sign the Susan B. Anthony List's pro-life pledge—are nearly fatal flaws. (Huntsman has likewise refused to sign, leaving Tim Pawlenty as the only one of the three former governors to have signed the pledge.) Romney's conversion to pro-life principles seems opportunist; a pro-choice candidate has almost no chance of getting through the Republican primaries.
As important as the abortion issue is, there are other critical values that get less attention. To his credit, in the recent debate Romney did better than anyone at defending a principle that should be dear to evangelicals' hearts: religious liberty. As Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain demagogically stoked fears about the ostensible Muslim menace in America, comparing Muslims to Nazis (Gingrich) and suggesting that Muslims in his administration would need to take a loyalty oath (Cain), Romney courageously said that he would protect the liberty of people of all faiths.
Thomas S. Kidd teaches history and is a Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Follow his writings via Facebook and Twitter.