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Romney-Ryan and Religious Conservatives

Dan McCarthy wonders if Romney-Ryan will be able to mobilize social and religious conservatives:

Paul Ryan checks the appropriate social-right boxes, but I wonder if his intensity is sufficient to mobilize the culture warriors — much as Robert Zoellick, ready though he may have been to sign onto Project for a New American Century regime-change manifestos, is insufficiently intense for neocon hawks.

Ryan could have the some of same problems that Mitch Daniels had during his brief flirtation with a presidential bid last year. The Ryan presidential boomlet in 2011 was a belated attempt to try to have a Daniels candidacy without Daniels, and one of the things that kept dogging Daniels was the perception that he was insufficiently committed to social conservatism on account of his “social truce” comments. Many of Ryan’s admirers mistakenly ignore his social conservative voting record because Ryan does not dwell on these issues in his public remarks, and that could have the unintended effect of making social conservatives think that he isn’t really “one of them.” For the first time in recent memory, evangelicals have no one on the ticket openly identifying as “one of them.” That may not matter, but it is something that the GOP hasn’t faced since 1996. Is the absence of a Protestant from the Republican ticket a liability? Probably not, but since it has never happened before we don’t really know whether it makes any difference.

To the extent that conservative Catholics believe Ryan’s views have been informed by a Randian view of the world, they may be less than enthusiastic about him despite the fact that he is the first Catholic on a Republican ticket in 48 years (and only the second one ever). On the other hand, religious conservatives could choose to see Ryan’s quarrels with the USCCB and progressive Catholics over his budget proposal as proof that he is a champion of Catholic social teaching, and they could accept his more recent about-face on Rand as proof of the “real” Ryan. Dissatisfaction with Obama on matters of religious liberty could be enough on its own to mobilize most of these voters to support the ticket regardless of what Romney and Ryan say or do. The 2004 Bush campaign benefited from the surge in social conservative turnout that year, but they did not do much to encourage the marriage initiatives that contributed to their victory.

We also shouldn’t rule out the effect that media and partisan vilification can have on the degree of enthusiasm for a ticket. The more that Ryan in particular is attacked and vilified, especially on matters related to religion and social issues, the more that his conservative hero status will grow. Provided that many independents don’t flee from the Republican ticket, this could improve the GOP’s chances of winning. If religious conservatives believe that Ryan is being attacked because of his religious views, that could produce a rallying effect on its own. Some criticisms of Ryan might not energize religious conservatives, but these almost certainly would.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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