AFTER the 2004 elections, religious conservatives were riding high. Newly anointed by pundits as “values voters” — a more flattering label than “religious right” — they claimed credit for propelling George W. Bush to two terms in the White House. Even in wartime, they had managed to fixate the nation on their pet issues: opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.
Religious conservatives were alarmed last month when none of the Republican front-runners [Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson] showed up for the Values Voter Debate Straw Poll in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 40 groups, some of them major organizations known for their capacity to mobilize voters, had put together the event. Questions were directed even at the no-show candidates, and many of those questions were angry.
“Beyond their cowardice, there’s an arrogance on the part of these candidates,” said Janet L. Folger, the president of Faith2Action, who helped organize the debate. “The arrogance is this: ‘We are just taking your votes for granted. You have nowhere else to go.’ ”
A very interesting question is raised here indeed. Are Evangelicals losing influence in the Republican party? This New York Times article makes a very interesting point--even in wartime, the Religious Right was able to significantly shape the dialogue of the 2004 presidential campaign, focusing it just as much if not more on the Religious Right's pet issues than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And who could blame President Bush for catering to them? The less he could talk about the war, the better, because of its growing unpopularity, and the more he could rely on his base to come to the polls, the less he would have to seriously consider the opinions of other voting blocs. But now the Republican Party is no longer playing that card. As the quotation at the end of the above excerpt says, the Republican Party just may very well be taking the Evangelical vote for granted.
Well, let's think about how the Republican frontrunners have been campaigning so far. For the most part, it's been pretty predictable pro-war rhetoric more or less lock-step with that of Bush. Mitt Romney's "double Guantánamo" line, Giuliani's "hero of 9/11" schtick, the sabre-rattling at Iran from pretty much all of the candidates, none of that comes as a surprise. But we all know the Republicans can't win on that alone. We all know very well that, at least to swing voters, the 2008 election, just like the 2004 election, is all about the war, and a pro-war candidate is not going to win unless he can, just as Bush did in 2004, tap the Religious Right bloc--in other words, bring out more far right voters rather than trying to win over swing voters. If the Republicans do not reach out to that bloc in 2008, the Religious Right will stay home on election day.