If conservative Christians have helped elect GOP presidents in recent years they may be the undoing of the party this time around for the small fissures developing between the various religious blocs in the GOP are developing into seismic fractures.
Mike Huckabee’s question to a New York Times reporter, “don’t the Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers,” could have critical ramifications in a close general election.
If Romney wins the nomination it only further advertises his faith to evangelical voters who are leery of Mormonism. If Huckabee wins the nomination it could mean a loss of Nevada and maybe even Arizona, key pieces in the electoral map, where Democrats have made inroads in recent elections and an infuriated segment of the Mormon Church, crucial in those states, may sit on their hands on Election Day.
Not that this is the only fissure in the once monolithic traditional values vote.
Some prominent evangelical leaders are still fuming at the conservative Catholic wing of the coalition. While born again Christians represent 42 percent of the American public, they still can’t get one of their own on the Supreme Court.
In 2005, when President George W. Bush made the first evangelical nomination, Harriet Miers, conservative Catholic commentators raised a ruckus and the Catholic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Sam Brownback, questioned her conservatism. The Miers nomination was pulled and another Catholic, Samuel Alito was the replacement.
Evangelicals, who had supported Catholic nominees, Robert Bork, Anton Scalia, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts, swallowed their pride and supported Samuel Alito too, but they were stung by what some of them saw as a betrayal. When it came time to run for president, Brownback found surprising resistance and many evangelical leaders announced early that they would never line up behind either Catholic Rudolph Giuliani. Newt Gingrich wisely stayed out.
Now, there are growing signs of a major split between Baptists and charismatics, the remaining hard core supporters of George W. Bush, the last of the Republican base. Baptists have long had doctrinal issues with charismatic-Pentecostals but had for years subordinated those fears to the higher good of electing Republican conservatives.
Now, Baptist Sen. Grassley has targeted six televangelists, all Charismatic-Pentecostals, a coincidence he says, but no ordained Baptists, such as Pat Roberson and James Robison have been called, even though they share many of the same doctrines.
Grassley has demanded all credit card receipts since 2001, a move that guarantees a scandal. Cardinal Richelieu once said, “Give me four lines written by any man and I can have him tried as a criminal.” Grassley should have no problem with mountains of receipts to pour through.
Conservative Baptists, dominated by the Southern Baptist convention number 25 million. Most estimates put the Charismatic-Pentecostal numbers at 20 million. It is almost an even split of the last remaining core of the GOP.
It gets worse.
Grassley has taken to ridiculing black Pentecostal doctrine and culture. “Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a Rolls-Royce,” he said. Two of his targets are black preachers. The black Pentecostal community, which represents the only blacks in the GOP, are furious. Grassley is on the board of Cedars, a quiet, refined, elitist, country club version of evangelicalism, which famously runs the National Day of Prayer and owns a getaway mansion on sprawling prime acreage on the Potomac River, worth much more than many Rolls Royces.
Senators and congressman can use it at their leisure. When I worked at the White House, I was invited to come by. While the non evangelical world is clueless, many Pentecostals now see themselves as victims of elitist evangelical leaders in their own party and they are not happy.
Huckabee, a Southern Baptist, has been courting these very Pentecostals, which he must have as a united front in a general election. He recently appeared on a week of television programs with televangelist Ken Copeland, one of Grassley’s targets. Now what will he do?
If he defends the televangelists, soon to be demonized by the national media as the Grassley inquiry proceeds, he loses much of his base. If he says nothing about the outrages Grassley will trumpet to the media, if he loses the other half.
And it is not like all of this is happening in a vacuum. Hillary Clinton has been quietly meeting with evangelical leaders since 2006. Keep in mind, she doesn’t need to win the evangelical vote, she only has to win a piece of it or get a piece of it to stay home. Only two Democrats have done that in recent years and both of them won the presidency.
There is no way that any Republican candidate can win without the combined support of Mormons, conservative Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals. It needs all of its diverse “traditional values” elements as its base to win elections. In this recent Huckabee-Romney exchange neither side wins, both lose.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian and religious adviser to two presidents.
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