Ron Paul's Evangelical Outreach

September 07, 2011

As the Republican presidential candidates gather tonight for a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, there will likely be more examples of confessional politics. That is fitting for the setting since Reagan was a key figure--along with Jimmy Carter--in helping create our system of confessional politics in the first place. Along those lines, Sarah Posner has a good Salon piece in which she notes examples of religious dog whistle comments to watch for in the debate, and she quotes me and my book on confessional politics. Although the religious appeals of candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have received a lot of attention, Ron Paul is also reaching out to conservative evangelicals in hopes of finding political salvation at the ballot box. Ron Paul, whose second place finish at the Iowa Straw Poll last month (the photo is one I took of him speaking at his campaign's tent at that event) demonstrates how much better he is doing this year than last time when he came in fifth, has also been trying to improve his standing among evangelicals.

Back in July, Paul's campaign announced its "Evangelicals for Ron Paul" effort, which is modeled after similar efforts by other campaigns. None of the names are well-known individuals, but the effort is a clear sign that Paul is trying to win over conservative evangelicals. The most significant person in the effort is Paul's adviser for the effort--Doug Wead, who advised both President George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. Wead said of Paul:
Evangelicals are hurting as much as any other segment of America during this economic stagnation, which manifests itself in record-high unemployment, barely palatable growth and widespread loss of opportunity. In addition, cash-strapped local governments use land-use privileges to erode the rights of those who wish to establish a house of worship. Pastors assert that they cannot construct needed churches because zoning boards prefer not to allow properties to be transferred to the nonprofit, and thus tax-exempt, sector. ... There is so much outrage about the economy, the corruption of the political system and rights erosion that Ron Paul is seen as the only presidential candidate who is trusted to deliver the message reliably, consistently and unapologetically.
Going even further, Brian Jacobs, who consulted for both the Billy Graham Association and Kenneth Copeland Ministries, proclaimed:
Ron Paul is comfortable proclaiming that he accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. He is happily married to his childhood sweetheart Carol. And his stance on the sanctity of life is positively unassailable.
Similarly, the website for the effort prominently features a quotation from Paul about having "accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior." This is a clear example of confessional politics. Following the Iowa Straw Poll, Wead said Paul's strong showing was in part because of such outreach to evangelicals--an effort that included mailing 5,000 copies of a DVD about Paul to pastors. It will be interesting to see if Paul is able to find even more success among conservative evangelicals and how his anti-war message will work with this group that has been generally supportive of our nation's recent wars.