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For the Republican Party find its way back, it has to get rid of evangelicals



Political parties in America are remarkably hardy. They have proven themselves to be adaptable to the most far-ranging circumstances. The Republican Party has gone through many crises since its founding (in 1854). It has enjoyed periods of near-monopolistic control (1860-1912) and periods when it seemed like an endangered species (1932-1952). The party has swung from far right to moderate and back again, depending on the exigencies of the moment. Currently, it’s undergoing what David Gergen calls “a civil war” between its rightwing extemists and more “moderate” traditionalists. Democrats are enjoying this particular battle—I certainly am!—but before we break out the champagne we should keep in mind that this GOP is wily and will likely regroup after Trump’s defeat.

My younger readers might not understand how the Republicans got into their current predicament, so let me tell you about the last 45 years. When Richard Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, he realized he had no hope of winning the Black vote, which is essential to capturing the big cities of America. Therefore he developed “the southern strategy,” a thinly-disguised appeal to racism below the Mason-Dixon line. It worked; the Solid South, formerly Democratic, turned Republican, and remains that way.

The appeal to whites, particularly white males, continued throughout the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. The latter was not an especially conservative Republican, although he had to play nice with evangelicals (whom he disliked personally) and anti-abortion types (with whom he and his wife, Barbara, disagreed). Around this time—the late 1980s and early 1990s—the Republican Party made a fateful decision: it cast its political lot with evangelicals, to put together the coalition that elected George W. Bush twice. But in so doing, it empowered the fringe Christian right, who actually raised to power insane men such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee.

These people, the most extreme rightwingers, were emboldened enough during Bill Clinton’s presidency to impeach him. Fortunately, the American people—even many Republicans—realized that the right had vastly overreached. They continued to support Clinton by great majorities, which is why the Senate eventually failed to convict him. But the rightwingers had proven their power; they were just getting started. For the last twenty years, they’ve been busy little bees, taking over state houses and state legislatures; and their consistent message has been one of hatred against Democrats—a hatred that went on steroids with the election of our first Black President, Barack Obama.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the biggest problem with the Republican Party is that it doesn’t have the courage to stand up to the evangelicals. Many if not most clear-thinking Republicans believe that evangelicals are nuts. Donald Trump, for example, knows that the world was not created 6,000 years ago. He knows that Adam and Eve didn’t play with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, and that the Grand Canyon was not created by Noah’s flood. He knows that the world with all its marvels wasn’t made in six days, and that science is the best way to explain and understand the universe. In his private moments (and perhaps a tape recording will surface), he, like most wealthy New Yorkers, thinks that evangelicals are redneck rubes he would never invite to his and Melania’s parties.

And make no mistake, it has been evangelicals who have driven the Republican Party off the cliff. They’re ignorant, yes, and stubborn as mules, and they celebrate their own lack of education. But they vote, and have provided the tipping point in electing Republicans for several decades now, so they have to be courted. People like Donald Trump have to pretend to respect them. But this merely emboldens the evangelicals even more: it makes them think they’re more powerful and numerous than they really are. That, in turn, causes them to raise the stakes: no on abortion, no on gay rights (despite what the Supreme Court says), no on a separation of church and state, no on taxes for billionaires, no on science, no on climate change, no on diplomacy—no on the very things that, if enacted into law, would actually benefit them and their families. It’s been a question on the Left for years: how come these Republicans vote against their own interests and the interests of their parents and children?

The answer is simple. Their thinking process is so messed up, by the superstitions and malice of their religion, that they’re no longer capable of sane decision-making. That’s a terrible thing to accuse them of, I know. I have evangelicals in my family. They are wonderful people—they’d give you the shirt off their back. They give to charity, they generally are good parents, they are loyal patriots who love their country, they are law-abiding citizens. Let’s give them their due.

But when it comes to intellectual clarity, they are a most diseased demographic. Their rejection of science indicates something seriously wrong with their frontal lobes. This is not a disease caused by germs or viruses or accidents; it is a self-inflicted mental sickness. But humans have free will. Nobody can force somebody else to be rational.

There’s probably a rock-solid 20%-25% of the American public that’s evangelical and isn’t about to change. What the Republican Party has to do, if it wants to live, is clean house, and the first thing to get thrown out must be evangelicals. This will cause an uproar, for sure, especially in the reddest of the red-state Bible belt: Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc. The preachers will go insane and so will their pet congressmen. Limbaugh will be foaming at the mouth, and fox “news” will go on a rampage, especially the Vaticanistas like Hannity and O’Reilly. David Gergen’s “civil war” might just erupt for real and manifest itself in riots. But it has to be done. These evangelicals are a cancer on the Republican Party, as they are on the country, and as with any cancer, the only way to help the patient survive is to excise it.

  1. Russ Jordan says:


    Please complete your advice to Republicans. After they have pushed 20-25% of the population out of their party, what demographic will they go after and what platform changes will they use to give them a national victory over the Democrats?

    I doubt your goal in the post was to provide the Republicans a roadmap to victory. Perhaps you should have just retitled you post “I hate evangelicals”. That would be more concise and to the point.

  2. Russ Jordan, you’re right, my goal was not to provide repubs with a map of how to win. But your question is a good one. When/if the GOP breaks ranks with the evangelicals, it can then focus on independents and women–two swing groups it is currently losing badly to Hillary. There are legitimate issues to be discussed, but reasonable conversations can’t be had while evangelicals have a strong seat at the table. There can be no reasoning with them about climate change, for example, nor can we have an adult conversation about educating our kids, or taxes, or the role of government, or intelligent diplomatic approaches to foreign policy…I could go on and on. Most Americans are centrists–I certainly am–but these evangelicals can never compromise on anything, because they have only one source of authority, the bible. Do I hate them? No. Hate is too strong a word. I don’t hate anyone. But I fear them, and I resent what they’ve done to America, and while I agree they have every right to whatever form of religion they want, I believe that when they try to inject that religion into governance, the rest of us have the right to resist.

  3. Russell Jordan says:

    That is a much more reasoned and honest start for a discussion. I know I worry a lot about the direction and problems of this country, as I am sure you have as well. But I know I don’t lay awake at night worrying about how the Democrat party would be better if they just get rid of this group or that.

  4. Russell, the reason this is not a problem (Democrats getting rid of this group of that) is because there are no crazies in the Democratic coalition. We do have our extreme left (which I am not part of), but they are at least rational and open to discussions about compromise. There is no equivalent in the Democratic Party to the evangelicals and the outsized role they play in the Republican Party.

  5. Steve,

    How does the GOP go about “throwing out” the evangelicals, or any other faction? I don’t think there’s actually a procedure for expelling people from American political parties (or for denying them membership in the first place).

    If evangelicals, or Tea Partiers, or Trumpists, or whatever group we’re talking about, want to register as a Republican (or, in states that have “open” primaries, show up at the polls and vote in a GOP primary), there isn’t much that the party leaders can do about it. Maybe they could tweak some of the nominating rules to try to favor establishment candidates (superdelegates, anyone?), but even that might not be so easy.

    And if that’s the case, then Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or whoever could give all the speeches they wanted about how certain voters don’t belong to the GOP, but all it will accomplish is provoking primary challenges that may end up costing them their positions.

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