An interesting story in McClatchy DC this week points out the growing resentment among Christian conservatives who feel like Republicans are using them and abusing them for their votes. As the Republican candidates head into South Carolina, where the evangelical vote will once again be a deciding factor in the outcome, the contenders may want to pay particular attention to that resentment.
Conventional wisdom would have the Christian vote split between two candidates: Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. But in reality, Cruz has more to worry about from Donald Trump than the retired neurosurgeon, whose campaign – once red hot – has faltered in the last couple of months. Trump, no one’s idea of a prayerful man, has nonetheless captured a significant chunk of the evangelical vote. But if they are choosing Trump, it may be because they’ve grown tired of voting for Republicans who promise the moon and deliver nothing.
Gay marriage, Planned Parenthood (and abortion law in general), sex education in schools, and religious freedom are all topics of intense interest among Christian conservatives. And though the lack of concrete Republican action has been a source of animosity across the entire base, it is especially noticeable in these divisive areas.
“You don’t have to be a cynic to see ways in which evangelicals have been used by Republicans,” said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, whose latest book is about politics and the culture wars. “And it is a long-standing lament in conservative Christian circles that Republicans won their votes with promises to overturn Roe v. Wade (which legalized abortion) . . . and then did nothing about it.”
It’s not hard to see the trap voters are stuck in. They can either vote for a Republican…or they can stay home. Certainly, the Democrats are not offering anything that a committed Christian conservative can sink their teeth into. At least with a Republican candidate, there is the chance they might nominate a conservative Supreme Court Justice and thus open the window towards rolling back some of the worst liberal excesses.
One problem is that there is this other wing of the party that believes that Christians are bringing down the Republican brand. The theory is that America in general is moving towards more social liberalism; by pandering to Christian voters, Republicans are missing out on an opportunity to bring fiscally conservative independents into the tent.
Whether that’s true or not, we can’t know. There are probably some younger voters turned off by harsh anti-LGBT messages. But who will speak for the nation’s millions of religious conservatives if not the Republican Party?
The truth is, evangelical voters have more to gain by voting with their wallets than by relying on the political process. When corporate America realizes that they are losing hundreds of millions of dollars by offending the traditional values of the faithful, things will change. Until then, politicians will gleefully talk a good game to get in office.