THE BLOG

The Republican Undead

10/31/2010 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Nancy L. Cohen Author and historian, Breakthrough: The Making of America's First Woman President

The Republican party has an uncanny ability to dupe the American public and rise from the dead on the votes of the Christian Right. Let's look at the record:

  • The conservative revolution was declared dead when Clinton won in '92. Two years later, Republicans took over Congress on a Christian Right voting surge.
  • Newt Gingrich's self-styled revolutionaries overreached. When Clinton won reelection in a cakewalk and the Democrats surprised everyone to win the '98 midterms, Gingrich resigned and the Christian Right said they were done with politics. Two years later, George W. Bush squeaked into the White House on the Christian Right vote.
  • In 2006 and again in 2008, voters rejected the Bush administration and the Republican congress for their incompetence and extremism. And, lo and behold, there's a "new" force in America, poised to take over the House on Tuesday.

A cynical mix of rebranding, issue evasion, and stealth restored a seemingly moribund Republican party to power in each instance. In '94, the new brand was the Contract With America, pitched to Perot voters and deliberately mute on hot button cultural issues. In 2000, the new brand was compassionate conservatism, sold to a politically tuned-out dot.com America through photo ops of Log Cabin Republicans and Latino schoolchildren. Today, it's the Tea Party, just a bunch of constitution-loving regular folk concerned about spending, out to help the average American taxpayer.

The common element in each instance of Republican revival is the under-the-radar mobilization of the Christian Right. The Christian Right accounted for 40 percent of Bush's total vote in 2000. In 1994, eighty-seven percent of all House seats picked up by the GOP occurred in states in which the Christian Right had significant influence within the Republican state party.

After a year of frenzied reporting about the awakening of the apolitical masses, there is finally ample evidence that these are the usual suspects. The eminent political scientist Alan Abramowitz parsed the numbers and concluded:

Tea Party supporters were overwhelmingly white, somewhat older than the electorate as a whole and somewhat more religious than the electorate as a whole. . .

Although some Tea Party leaders have tried to stress the movement's independence from the Republican Party, supporters of the Tea Party movement overwhelmingly identified with the Republican Party and reported voting for Republican candidates. Eighty percent of Tea Party supporters were Republican identifiers or independents who leaned toward the Republican Party and 54 percent were strong Republican identifiers. And Tea Party supporters definitely were not political newcomers--93 percent reported voting in the 2008 presidential election and 96 percent of these Tea Party voters cast their ballots for John McCain. . . .

With respect to ideology and issue positions, Tea Party supporters were far to the right of the overall electorate. Fully 84 percent of strong Tea Party supporters described themselves as conservative and 54 percent described themselves as very conservative while only 41 percent of all members of the public described themselves as conservative and only 20 percent described themselves as very conservative.

Same old same old. Only more so.

Yes many Americans are angry, frustrated, and scared about their economic future. But the true passion for Tea Party candidates is all with the sexual fundamentalists of the Christian Right. Sharron Angle suggests divorce is wicked. Joe Miller endorses a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Ken Buck suggests women are less qualified for political office and opposes common forms of birth control. Christine O'Donnell fears the weaker sex will weaken our military. Carl Paladino calls a sitting U.S. senator a "little girl." A reactionary view of sex and a retrograde view of women fuels the fury of these candidates and their supporters.

The Christian Right/Tea Party and the GOP are banking on two things. One, that Democrats and change voters are demoralized. Two, that independents and moderates take their small-government rhetoric at face value. The con worked in the past when Democrats and Democratic leaning groups failed to turn out in large numbers to vote, when independent and moderate voters were dissatisfied but lacked knowledge of their real aims. For the Democrats to stave off disaster this Tuesday, turnout and straight talk are key.

Let's keep Halloween on Halloween. When the Republican zombies come knocking on Tuesday, dressed up in their patriot costumes, don't let them in the House.