Divided to Fall Again?

December 11, 2010

With the 2010 midterms behind us, political attention has shifted strongly to the upcoming 2012 Republican presidential primaries--although candidates are slower in announcing their runs than they were for the 2008 race. As with the 2008 Republican race, it seems that conservative Christian leaders are struggling to find someone they all like. A recent Newsweek article does a good job of detailing the thoughts of several conservative Christian leaders. It begins with Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention who seems to have soured on Mitt Romney since the last race (because of the issue of health care) and continues to be against Mike Huckabee but without being able to articulate an accurate reason (Land wrongly claims Sarah Palin is more popular among evangelicals than Huckabee even though polls clearly show the opposite). Land and many other conservative Christian leaders did not support Huckabee in 2008, even though he remained the most popular with average evangelicals.

As I reported last month, conservative Christian leaders are already meeting and plotting to defeat Barack Obama--in the same way they did against Jimmy Carter--but they apparently are struggling to find the candidate that excites them like Ronald Reagan did. Although several commentators who wrote about my piece thought it was an effort to help Huckabee, that seems unlikely given the response these leaders gave him last time (and that Land is still giving him). Interestingly, the candidate who seems to have the most connections with the group is Newt Gingrich (most significantly, the leader of his religious-political group was part of the meeting). However, the Newsweek piece quotes some of the individuals from the meeting I covered who clearly are not keen on Newt, including Land and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Yet, the leader of that effort--James Robison--seems to be building his ties with Newt. The two recently appeared together in a program in Dallas. During his speech at the event, Newt stated:

Reverend James Robison's an amazing person. He was a leader in the Reagan years. He has, I think, the most important thing that a Pastor can have, which is a sincere, deep, total belief that helping Christ to enter the lives of others will permanently and decisively change who they are. And I think all the rest of us are busy doing many other things but having people walk up to you, look you in the eye and say that Christ truly loves you and that your life can be changed if you would just surrender to that love, is an enormous part of the best of America. And so when you were here tonight, I just wanted to thank you for a lifetime of living what you believe and living what you preach.
If Newt, who is twice-divorced and a recent evangelical convert to Catholicism, can win over the key evangelical Protestant leaders, it would clearly provide him a strong boost should he enter the presidential race. Either way, all of this seems to confirm that we live in an era of confessional politics.

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