In an article posted August 26, 2010 by Liz Goodwin titled “Former Bush Campaign Manager Flips on Gay Marriage,” it is revealed that Ken Mehlman–former Bush Campaign adviser and head of the Republican National Committee–is now openly gay and “will raise funds and strategize for the campaign to legalize gay marriage.” Ms Goodwin states he had previously “spearheaded some of the most aggressively anti-gay initiatives in American politics.”
This is a great example of the new situation the Republican party has created for itself as I described in my last piece for America’s Right on Proposition 8.
This kind of action will clearly signal to many religious conservatives that the Republican Party no longer feels that religious conservatives are fundamental to winning national elections. This is quite a switch over the course of ten years, since religious conservatives are credited with putting George W. Bush in the White House in 2000 and 2004. What are the religious conservatives likely to do now?
One answer to this is religious conservatives will do nothing but complain. They certainly will not vote to re-elect President Obama to a second term. So, even if the Republican Party goes for gay marriage, religious conservatives will stay in the Republican fold. This is the age-old “lesser of two evils” argument.
Another possibility is that religious conservatives will shift focus and fight hard in local elections where they have the numbers to win. That way, they can at least have power in the House of Representatives where candidates represent smaller districts. This will limit their power nationally, but they will have influence in Congress.
Another answer is to take back the Republican Party before the next presidential election. This seems highly unlikely. Gone are the days when American presidents win votes by posing with clergy. If the Republican Party is going to woo people who previously voted for President Obama, they do not seem to believe it will happen by ensuring people that they will follow the teachings of the Bible. Furthermore, it is important to remember what many religious conservatives I know have retreated into thinking — that religion is a personal matter to be left out of politics. For some, this goes back to a sense of betrayal they felt when they backed George W. Bush because of his faith, only to be burned by his less-than-conservative fiscal policies. These religious conservatives only use their religion to determine their own vote, not to form public policy.
Another answer is that religious conservatives will bide their time. (You will notice I have left out the third party option, as I still do not see this as the immediate answer, even if it would be the most politically authentic move.) Political movements have their own cycles. Logically, if the economy ever sufficiently recovers, religious values may make a comeback. Right now, though, while the Glenn Beck rally this past weekend shows that faith still draws, even the Tea Party does not always and consistently show tremendous support for religious conservatives. I remember hearing a speech from a woman at a national Tea Party meeting this year who said social issues are divisive to the Tea Party movement. They have to stick to economics only, she said, or the movement will be irreparably fractured.
If nothing else, this change by Ken Mehlman will raise the concern among religious conservatives about “infiltration.” These concerns began way back in the 1960’s when the Republican Party wanted to maintain its purity of thought and spirit against leftist ideals. What happens in large organizations is that people join them and only pretend to believe in the party platform so they can move up in the organization. Once they rise to the top of the organization they begin to reveal their real opinions. I have seen this happen in numerous churches firsthand. This kind of flip flop leads to mistrust among all the organization’s members.
In the end, this battle in the party may be over how the Republican Party defines libertarianism. This is a much more complex philosophy than simply saying people should have liberty. If you ever read the Libertarian Party’s platform you will see it is a document a believing Christian could not follow. The press is playing up the disagreements within the Republican Party. We shall see if these disagreements make the party stronger or weaker in the months to come.