Signs of Fissure Between GOP Establishment and Religious Right

June 9, 2011, 5:17 pm | Posted by

Last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, intended to unify the Tea Party and conservative Christian wings of the GOP base, interestingly highlighted some latent but emerging fissures between these two camps.

In his opening remarks, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “We cannot fix the fiscal until we fix the family.” He also made a less-than-subtle jab at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who only just recently announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president because, as he put it, “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one. The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all.” From Perkins:

You know, the voices of division cry out that America’s fiscal and economic crisis deserve all of our attention. They argue that government spending, budget deficits, and the national debate are out of control, and other matters are unrelated and must be put aside. One prominent political figure, a man who actually has compiled an impressive record on fiscal issues, educational policy, health care, and other topics even called for a truce on the core social issues. Ironically, the priority of his own family–a priority I commend him for embracing–has dissuaded him from seeking higher office.

Perkin’s use of irony here seems to serve as both a subtle personal dig at Daniels and a disingenuous way to suggest his “truce” represented an abandonment of other families.

Most of the presidential and almost-presidential candidates in attendance at the conference kowtowed to Perkins’ prioritization of social issues. However, Mississippi Governor and political heavyweight Haley Barbour, who like Daniels recently announced his decision not to run for president, made a push for party unity by pointing out that, “statistically speaking,” whichever candidate attendees chose to support likely wouldn’t win the Republican primary. Barbour, who ran against an evangelical Democrat in his 2007 reelection for governor, instead told the crowd:

In political campaigns, in great crusades, in the effort to get our country back on the right track, we got to stay focused on the main thing. The main thing is winning the election. We can’t change the country like we want it unless we win the election. Okay? Remember, purity, in politics, purity is the enemy of victory. Okay?

Barbour’s appeal met with a luke-warm reception from the crowd, and caused a bit of a stir among conference speakers. At an afternoon panel on Catholic grassroots action, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser pushed back on Barbour’s suggestion by warning that “We could win back the Senate, we could win the White House and if we weaken on the fight for life and marriage, we will lose the entire battle and what will it have been for?” But fellow panelist Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate, echoed Barbour’s sentiment, suggesting the governor was just asking social conservatives not to “start getting into the game of ‘are they pro-life or pro-marriage enough,’ don’t start parsing it too far.”

It will be interesting to see how this tension plays out in the coming Republican primaries and the 2012 election, especially if religious conservatives don’t get their candidate of choice.

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What’s the price of xenophobia? Broken systems?

June 8, 2011, 4:36 pm | Posted by

immigration1.jpgThere’s been a lot of talk inside the Beltway about shifting demographics and the GOP’s short-sighted maneuvering on the immigration issue. They’ve been accused of ginning up xenophobic sentiment to galvanize their political base, without taking into account the fact that they’re alienating potential Hispanic supporters. But in a hopeful sign, a Los Angeles Times story last week indicated that some politically astute Republican leaders are trying to change that.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this comes up on the campaign trail and whether Republicans are forced to take a position on extreme measures like Arizona’s SB-1070, which has produced copycat legislation in a number of states including Alabama, whose recent bill may go even further.

And while Democrats have championed immigration reform and the DREAM Act, frustration is mounting with a flawed law enforcement program called Secure Communities, which links local law enforcement to federal immigration agents in order to identify and remove undocumented immigrants, and has fueled a significant increase in deportations of undocumented immigrants for minor offenses. High-profile cases like Los Angeles and New York state backing out of the program, coupled with a strong New York Times editorial today, are increasing the heat on political leaders of both parties to move beyond broken systems and angry rhetoric towards real solutions.

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Huntsman’s Moral Blindspot on Medicare

June 1, 2011, 2:01 pm | Posted by

huntsman.jpgLikely Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s semi-endorsement of Paul Ryan’s budget plan in the Wall Street Journal today contains this interesting line:

I admire Congressman Paul Ryan’s honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare’s ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.

I’m glad to see that Huntsman thinks it’s a moral responsibility for political leaders to ensure Medicare meets its promises to our elderly. But I’m confused as to why he doesn’t extend this same obligation to Ryan himself.

Not only does Ryan’s plan fail to meet this moral imperative, it doesn’t even try. Voucherizing Medicare so seniors have to pay increasingly more for their own care is the exact opposite of “meeting Medicare’s responsibilities.” And don’t Ryan’s drastic tax cuts for top earners make our tax structure less fair for future generations of low and middle income Americans (not to mention middle-class families hit hard today by Ryan’s proposal)?

The reality is that critics of Ryan’s approach have released their own budget alternatives that do make honest efforts to answer these difficult questions. The burden of moral proof is on supporters of plans that ignore or obfuscate these issues for political gain. Huntsman would do well to figure out which is which before he weighs in.

Photo credit Flickr/World Economic Forum

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Corporations or Kids?

May 19, 2011, 2:30 pm | Posted by

When we describe the budget as a moral document, we mean that it necessarily involves crucial choices about where to spend our resources. These choices reflect our moral priorities as a nation.

This ad by the non-profit Vote Kids, running in the presidential campaign states of Iowa and New Hampshire does a great job of boiling that point down to its fundamentals.

Good on them for stressing this point that cuts through the conventional wisdom about spending and debt. Candidates should be morally obliged to explain why we “can’t afford” programs that protect children and families even as we lavish tax breaks on corporations and the rich.

Politicians who support draconian budget cuts are fond of saying that it’s wrong to burden our children with debt. I’d love to hear how they reconcile such concerns with their zeal to destroy programs that help America’s youth prepare for a healthy and prosperous future.

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Trump’s uneven courtship of the religious right

April 26, 2011, 2:04 pm | Posted by

Donald_Trump.jpgOnce upon a time, Donald Trump tried to turn his name into an adjective. “You’re looking very Trump today,” a billboard for his Atlantic City casinos said. This slogan is definitely open to interpretation, but given the context “Trump” was probably meant to be shorthand for some combination of rich, dashing, and stylish.

Nowadays, Trump is synonymous with the cult of political celebrity. And some on the religious right are kind of star-struck by the thrice-married gambling magnate. This weekend Franklin Graham made headlines by suggesting he could support Trump’s presidential aspirations. “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a joke,’” Graham said. “But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘You know? Maybe the guy’s right.’”

A few weeks ago, Trump began his courtship of Christian conservatives by sitting with CBN’s David Brody for a lengthy interview, in which he declared himself pro-life, talked about his Christian faith, and made direct overtures to religious right leaders such as Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins. In response, Reed and Perkins both gave Trump nods of mild approval. Reed:

“There is a nascent and growing curiosity in the faith community about Trump. Evangelicals will like his pro-life and pro-marriage stances, combined with his business record and high-wattage celebrity all but guarantee he will get a close look from social conservatives as well as other Republican primary voters.”


“Given Donald Trump’s background in the gambling industry and his flamboyancy, one would not think he would be a fit with Evangelical voters. However, given the wide open field of candidates, strong statements that Trump has recently made on core social issues combined with an overarching desire to see a new occupant in the White House, he may find support among social conservatives.”

Conservative Christian commentator Cal Thomas isn’t buying what Trump is selling though. In a recent syndicated column, he said:

…While a candidate’s faith should matter only if it affects policy, if someone wishes to use his or her faith to win votes, then voters ought to be able to judge the depth of that faith as a means of determining the candidate’s credibility.

What should we make of Trump telling Brody that people send him Bibles all the time and that he stores them “in a very nice place”? “There is no way I would ever throw anything, to do anything negative to a Bible. I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive so actually I store them and keep them and sometimes give them away to other people.”

Does he read the Bible and believe what it says? How about the parts concerning marriage, divorce, and fornication? Would that be something Trump should take to heart? Brody didn’t ask and Trump didn’t volunteer. He did say he goes to church “as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion.” Christians know a lot of people who attend church only on Christmas and Easter and special occasions. They are usually not serious about their faith. Not to judge, but if Trump intends to use faith to win votes from people of faith, then those people have a right to determine whether he is sincere or simply trying to manipulate them.

Thomas also slammed Trump for making campaign contributions to Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hilliary Clinton and Rep. Anthony Weiner. Perhaps the divide between Perkins and Reed on the one hand and Thomas on the other reflects uncertain prospects for Trump among Christian conservatives. Or maybe it just reflects Perkins, Reed and Graham’s desire to play nice with the Republican favorite du jour…even if it means cozying up to a gambling magnate who is a very recent convert to their causes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 despite Giuliani’s support of gay rights and abortion rights. Early in the primary season, social issue bona fides sometimes get subordinated to political calculation.

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