Home > Bold Faith Type > Rick Santorum and the Religious Right’s Ineffectual Endorsement

Rick Santorum and the Religious Right’s Ineffectual Endorsement

January 25, 2012, 10:55 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

 

 

One of the most important observations from Saturday’s South Carolina primary results was the apparent lack of impact the “evangelical endorsement” of Santorum by prominent Religious Right figures had on the race.

Mindful of ongoing division around a crop of candidates that failed to inspire the Christian conservative community, James Dobson, Donald Wildmon and Gary Bauer organized a summit of Religious Right leaders in Texas the weekend before the primary to coalesce around one candidate. (Presumably, they were also trying to avoid repeating history, given the conventional wisdom that this same group’s delay in rallying around Mike Huckabee in 2008 inadvertently contributed to the nomination of the less palatable John McCain)

Not only did the summit fail to unify the Religious Right (before the group’s agreed-upon 24-hour period of silence ended, leaks were already calling into question the legitimacy of the vote result), but the resulting “endorsement” also failed to generate support for Santorum among primary voters.

The graph below shows aggregate polling over time, measuring likely voters’ support for Gingrich and Santorum in South Carolina leading up to the election:

South Carolina Support for Santorum and Gingrich After Evangelical "Summit"

Note how Santorum’s numbers show actually dropped a bit after the summit on the 14th. Gingrich, of course, was the candidate who ended up taking off, presumably on the strength of his debate appearances that week. The final vote total (40.4% for Gingrich, 17% for Santorum) was only a few points off the average of the final day of polling.

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, emergent evangelical Jonathan Merritt adds some more context to this phenomenon:

South Carolina is about as evangelical as states come, and Rick Santorum is about as perfect a match as gun-toting, grit-loving God-fearers could hope for. It says something about the state of evangelicalism when 65 percent of them would rather choose between a thrice-married “champion of family values” and questionably pro-life Mormon than the candidate anointed by the evangelical elites. Perhaps South Carolina has made clear what has been true for some time – that Christians are not monolithic and the American political process will no longer be significantly shaped by a handful of partisan religious leaders.

While it’s certainly accurate to point out that the king-making influence of these handful of Religious Right stalwarts seems to be greatly diminished, it would be dangerous to extrapolate too far and suggest this represents the end of the Christian right as a whole.

A quick glance at the current GOP platform testifies to the success the movement has had shaping the Republican party to its own likeness. Ed Kilgore explains:

Unlike 2008, no candidate in the field is pro-choice by any definition. Only Ron Paul seems reluctant to enact a national ban on same-sex marriage. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain have been vocal in fanning the flames of Islamophobia; again, only Paul has bothered to dissent to any significant degree.

Mitt Romney, of course, has a history on cultural issues that instills mistrust among many on the Christian Right. But his current positions bring him entirely in accord with social conservative priorities, and if he were elected, he would enter office more committed to Christian Right goals than any president in history. And if he is the nominee, he will likely choose a running-mate (and potential successor) who will, like McCain’s in 2008 (after social conservatives essentially vetoed his first and second choices), delight the Christian Right.

While future candidates may feel less obliged to kiss the rings of Religious Right powerbrokers, so long as religious conservatives continue to make up a significant portion of the Republican primary voter pool, I wouldn’t expect radical changes in the increasingly conservative positions GOP candidates espouse.

Comments are closed.