Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted. ~Daniel Casse
True enough, the GOP is not in the grip of the Religious Right, but the rest of this has things entirely backwards. Yes, certain evangelical leaders have wanted to boast of their great influence (overcompensating for their lack of actual power) and some have enjoyed holding court and having presidential candidates seek their blessing, and some social conservatives took satisfaction in the apparently significant role of the famous “values voters” in swinging the election to Bush in 2004, but by and large the myth of the Religious Right’s stranglehold on the GOP has been promoted most of all by two groups of people in recent years: hysterical secularists on the left who would probably see “floating crosses” in every Republican political advertisement and…secular conservatives on the right looking for scapegoats for the GOP’s recent electoral woes. It couldn’t be Iraq, dithering on immigration for six years or massive incompetence in government that has hurt Republicans–no, it must have been that Terri Schiavo business! Or so say the Ryan Sagers of the world.
Liberals have mistaken the importance of “values voters” to the GOP coalition for evidence of religious conservative clout in policymaking; some secular conservatives disturbed by the politics of the “values voters” and the GOP’s exploitation of wedge issues for GOTV efforts have developed elaborate theories about the religious radicalisation of the GOP, mistaking the deep cynicism of the GOP establishment for zealotry. The one group that hasn’t been pushing the narrative of a Religious Right-dominated GOP in recent years has been…religious conservatives, who know full well that they don’t really dominate much of anything in the party. Support for Huckabee’s candidacy is partly an outburst of frustration and dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and he has lately started making that sense of frustration an explicit part of his campaign. However, while a major part of the voting coalition, evangelicals specifically and religious conservatives generally wield much less clout at elite movement and party levels than you would expect given the outsized electoral importance of their issues to the coalition. The current election has highlighted the lack of unity and organisation of religious conservatives. It was significant that Giuliani’s campaign weakened on its own–it was not stopped by religious conservative leaders, some of whom even entertained or made accommodations with the mayor. It was also significant that religious conservative leaders adopted an “every man for himself” approach to candidate endorsements, rather than uniting around any one consensus figure, and still more significant that many, though by no means all, evangelical and social conservative voters rushed to rally around the candidate many of the leaders distrusted or opposed outright.