With the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, U.S. Sen. John McCain has demonstrated that his political strategists see the need to shore up support for the Republican Party within the Christian Right voter base.
A recent article the Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and I wrote for the Progressive Magazine "The Christian Right's Staying Power" suggested this was a possible outcome.
But McCain has not written off the Christian Right as powerless. The same McCain who, in his last bid for the Presidency, labeled various Christian Right leaders as "agents of intolerance" has not only apologized and embraced those leaders (Robertson and the late Falwell), but has accepted the endorsement of one of the worst of the bunch, John Hagee, who infamously called Hurricane Katrina an act of God against New Orleans for sponsoring a gay pride event
Already, the base is responding. According to a Texas newspaper story here, Texas Republicans cheered the selection of Palin, "saying she has solid social-conservative credentials and that the selection of a woman marks a historic moment for the GOP and a chance to appeal to disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton."
"It's a slam dunk" said delegate Cathie Adams, Republican National Committeewoman-elect and president of the Texas Eagle Forum. "I think that people who are concerned about 'How conservative is Mr. McCain' are now going to say, 'If he can make a choice of Sarah Palin, then he can be trusted with our conservative ideals.' " The Eagle Forum is an affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly's national organization of arch-conservatives.
In our article (July 2008) we argued that "Some have seen McCain's strength rooted in his ability to appeal as a moderate conservative--one who might attract independent, and even some more conservative, Democratic voters. The embrace of the Hagee endorsement, however, suggests that McCain considers the Christian Right vote more crucial to his success than the independent/moderate vote."
But there were a number of indications that McCain was seeking to woo the Christian Right. Trial balloons suggesting Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee were top contenders for the VP slot were one indication that the Christian Right needed some attention, given substantial lack of enthusiasm for McCain.
Again, from the Progressive Magazine
There are also strategic reasons for the Christian Right to be lukewarm toward McCain. Author Adele Stan has been pointing out for months that Christian Right strategists used Pat Buchanan's threat to bolt the GOP in 1996 as leverage to write into the Republican Party platform an ultraconservative wish list that helped sink the "too-liberal" Republican candidate Bob Dole. The next election in 2000 saw Republican strategists kneeling before the Christian Right voter base. This year it is possible that many Christian Right strategists will focus on Republican Senate seats and state elections and aim at rekindling a conservative resurgence in 2012.
For over a year most liberal pundits have been dismissing the strength of the Christian Right as a voting bloc loyal to the Republican Party. By picking Palin, McCain gains even more Christian Right support than by picking Romney or Huckabee with their heavy political baggage. This sets up McCain for a triumphant appearance at the 2008 Values Voters conference in Washington, DC--a major get out the vote event for mobilizing the Christian Right base to reach out to other evangelicals in their home communities.
More soon -- stay tuned