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Christian Conservatives’ Phantom Army

The charade of the Values Voter Summit

Did you see the Values Voter Summit straw poll results from the weekend? From The Hill:

Sen. Ted Cruz won the Values Voter Summit straw poll for the third year in a row on Saturday, a strong showing of support from evangelical voters for his 2016 presidential bid.

The firebrand Texas senator won a whopping 35 percent in the poll of summit-goers, ahead of runner-up Ben Carson’s 18 percent. That margin is significantly wider than last year, where he edged out Carson by just 5 percentage points.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) took third with 14 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) with 13 percent. Real estate magnate Donald Trump finished a distant fifth with 5 percent.

Bernie Sanders received more votes than either Chris Christie or Lindsey Graham. Heh.

Here’s the thing that my fellow conservative Christians need to understand: we are a lot weaker within the GOP than many of us think. The Indiana RFRA battle earlier this year was a watershed. It marked the first time the business community stood up and took sides on a contentious culture war issue — and the corporate lobby came down resolutely on the side of gay rights. You will remember too that as soon as Wal-mart cleared its pro-LGBT throat, the Republican governor of Arkansas backed away from that state’s RFRA. The fact is, the business lobby is powerful within Republican politics, because it is the source of so much money. If it comes down to standing with conservative Evangelicals or business leaders, the GOP knows on which side its bottom-line bread is buttered.

There will be no possible legislative protections for religious liberty going forward if the business community opposes them. You can go gaga for Ted Cruz, but even a President Cruz wouldn’t be able to deliver squat without business’s support. The LGBT lobby owns the Democratic Party, and now, because it has won over the business lobby, it holds the high ground in the Republican Party. I hate it, but them’s the facts. We have to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

TNR’s Suzy Khimm was at the Values Voter Summit. From her report:

Despite the shouts of hallelujah, what this year’s summit ended up highlighting was not the resurgent power of Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, but how much their influence on the policy debate has diminished. As usual, most of the major GOP presidential contenders—even the unlikely figure of Donald Trump—came courting the crowd of 2,700 who’d registered for the event. But they offered little besides effusive praise for Kim Davis and utterly vague—if not utterly unrealistic—promises to champion religious liberties in the White House. When the summit-goers left Washington to scatter back to their hometowns across America, they left with no clear idea of what to fight for next—or how.


The drift in the social-conservative agenda has been a gift to conservative Republicans: They’re increasingly free to court the religious right with little more than toothless appeals to tribalism. This year, they had little to do but practice affinity politics, competing to see who could come off as the most ardent supporter of Davis and “religious liberties” rhetorically. And if there’s one thing that Republican candidates have learned, particularly in the Obama era, it’s how to tap into their base’s fear and anger without offering anything concrete.

Read the whole thing (the Benedict Option gets a mention, btw). I think the Religious Right ought to do what Ross Douthat suggests, and find some realistic way to get policy changed by partnering with a Republican presidential candidate who won’t make promises he can’t possibly fulfill, and work on the Benedict Option, because the political and legal landscape is not going to get better for religious conservatives in the foreseeable future.



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