The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports, “Religious Right Still Lacking a Champion in 2012 Field.”
Ball attended a public discussion between Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, a standard-bearer for progressive evangelicals, and Richard Land, the conservative head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
It’s somewhat encouraging to hear Land criticizing the Republican primary field for their one-upmanship in scapegoating Sooners:
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the GOP candidates’ tough talk on illegal immigration, as well as their anti-government fervor, are alienating Christian voters. …
Land insists evangelicals will be motivated to vote for the Republican nominee, whoever it is, by their antipathy toward President Obama and his policies. But in a panel at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Land’s criticisms of some of the rhetoric and positions that have become commonplace in today’s GOP were striking.
Asked whether the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush has fallen by the wayside, Land said, “It existed, and it exists. One reason there’s a lot of frustration on the part of evangelicals is we don’t see anyone who’s running who fits that model.”
He added, “I am more of a Bushie than a Reagan or Perry on these issues. Reaganism believed that government is a necessary evil and we should have as little of it as possible. I happen to think government can be used as a way of empowering people to make good, positive decisions for themselves.”
Land cited the post-World War II G.I. Bill as an example as well as a robust commitment to foreign aid. In addition, he bemoaned the demonizing of illegal immigrants.
“There has been shameless politicking on this issue from both sides of the aisle,” he said. In their cynical jockeying for political advantage, he said, “One side has ginned up nativism, while the other side has ginned up fear in the Hispanic community.” Meanwhile, the majority of Americans support some kind of comprehensive immigration reform.
I think Land overstates the case for “compassionate conservatism,” which seemed more slogan than substance — and was confirmed by John DiIulio, David Kuo and others as all-slogan and no substance. Land’s “both sides do it” false equivalence on immigration is also just silly. But still it’s good to see his Huntsman-esque refusal to cater to the pressure to take ever-more extreme stances to please the tea party base of his Republican constituency.
As for the lack of a “champion” for the religious right referred to in Ball’s headline, I think there’s a bit of a Mitt Romney effect happening, and I think that explains part of what Land tells Ball about why “conservative evangelicals are frustrated with their choices in the Republican presidential field.”
The key to winning over such conservative evangelical Republicans used to be saying all the right things about their key social issues. Any candidate who could recite the proper formulation expressing opposition to abortion and homosexuality could be deemed acceptable.
Yet here is Mitt Romney saying all the things that they want to hear in precisely the formulation of those sentiments that they prefer. But they still don’t trust him. They don’t believe him because they remember that, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney used to say all the things that liberals wanted to hear too.
Romney thus serves as a constant reminder that just because a candidate says he or she supports all the litmus-test issues that matter preeminently for conservative evangelical voters it doesn’t mean that candidate is really on their side. Their suspicion of Romney reminds them of the possibility of viewing Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain with a similar suspicion.
And because of that, just parroting the right applause lines is no longer enough to make a candidate a “champion” who can rally the religious right.
That may create a bit of an enthusiasm problem, but as Richard Land notes, it won’t change how these partisans will be voting next year due to their “antipathy toward President Obama and his policies.” That antipathy isn’t generally based on reality, but it remains firm due to having been carefully, studiously cultivated by people like Richard Land, who despite his more reasonable comments above, also displays an ugly willingness to tell bald-faced lies.