What McCain is attempting to do by selecting Palin is to close the God Gap by solidifying the base of the Republican Party in the Christian Right, while at the same time appealing to a broader base of White Christian evangelicals. And Palin will appear quite mainstream to most moderate Republicans and independents.
McCain was considering Romney and Huckabee as ways to woo the Christian Right, but Romney was coming across as too slick and elitist, and was still being dragged down by antipathy among some Christian evangelicals for his being a Mormon.
Last February, I wrote here: "Huckabee Fails to Keep Southern Evangelical Base United." So while many in the Christian Right voted for Huckabee in those southern primaries, not enough other White evangelicals voted for Huckabee. In other words, Huckabee would scare away too many moderate Republicans and not attract enough of the White Christian evangelical base outside the Christian Right.
Remember, the Christian Right is only 15% of the electorate, but it votes overwhelmingly Republican with little change over the last 30 years. One study found that 40 percent of the total vote for Bush in 2000 came from Christian Evangelicals, making it the largest single voting bloc in the Republican Party.
But some White Christian evangelicals are swing voters. Palin will be attractive to this constituency where Huckabee and Romney failed.
The Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and I wrote an article for the July 2008 Progressive Magazine, "The Christian Right's Staying Power," that explains why the Christian Right is still a factor in elections. We interviewed several observers of the Christian Right, including Richard J. Meagher and Michelle Goldberg.
"The old guard of the Christian Right is passing from the scene, and no longer commands the loyalty of as many Christian Right voters as they once did," says Richard J. Meagher, a political scientist at Marymount Manhattan College. He lists off the fading culture warriors: Dobson of Focus on the Family, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, and Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Woman for America. Evangelicals under thirty don't seem to pay much attention to these folks. Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming, however, notes that the "apparent left turn among younger evangelicals is not directly related to the rise and fall of the Christian Right" as a socio-political movement.
Meagher warns that "conservative political activists have been very skillful at taking issues such as 'tax reform' and the 'war on terror' and repackaging and reframing them as 'family issues' to attract support from the Christian Right."
Meagher points out that each wave of conservative Christian organizing has left behind more institutional infrastructure in the form of publishing houses, radio and television programs, bookstores, and more. This "institutional thickening" bulks up the network of social movement organizations so that there is substantial momentum to carry it through divisive episodes, such as the current one."
Calling the Christian Right a bunch of lunatics is neither accurate nor useful. They are a force to be reckoned with.
See, for more information:
Chip Berlet. 2008. "Huckabee Fails to Keep Southern Evangelical Base United"
Chip Berlet. 2008. "Reading the Bible Belt Before Coming of Super Tuesday"
Chip Berlet & Pam Chamberlain. 2006. Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the Culture Wars in 2006. Political Research Associates.
Chip Berlet, "Midterm Election 2006: Pundit Watch," Talk to Action.
Chip Berlet, "The Christian Right, Mid-term Elections, & Social Movements," Talk to Action.
John C. Green and Mark Silk, "Why Moral Values Did Count," Religion in the News, 2005, (Spring).
Scott Keeter, "Evangelicals and the GOP: An Update. -- Strongly Republican Group Not Immune to Party's Troubles," Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, October 18, 2006.
Geoffrey C. Layman, and John C. Green, "Wars and Rumors of Wars: The Contexts of Cultural Conflict in American Political Behavior," British Journal of Political Science 36(1), (January 2006): 61-89.
Andrew Kohut, "The Real Message of the Midterms," Pew Research Center, November 14, 2006.
Mark J. Rozell, "What Christian Right?" Religion in the News, Spring 2003, Vol. 6, No. 1.
" The Smaller God Gap," On Belief, BeliefNet,
Election cycle disclaimer. These are my personal essays written on my own time.
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates