One takeaway from the GOP South Carolina Primary, won handily by Newt Gingrich: the religious right’s support for distant-third runner-up Rick Santorum proved not to amount to much, despite a high number of evangelicals in the state. Iowa increasingly appears to be an outlier.
As John Avlon writes at the Daily Beast, “If evangelical leaders can’t get their chosen candidate a victory here, where can they do it? … the idea of a mass-mobilizeable, single-issue voter is increasingly a myth perpetuated by special-interest activist groups who are literally invested in the idea.”
Still, Avlon notes, social conservatives
“have certainly been successful in getting Republican candidates to conform to their policy positions. Despite the fact that 70 percent of Republican primary voters say that fiscal issues are the basis for deciding their vote—just over 20 percent say social issues are the defining issue in 2012—this GOP field is as far to the right on social issues as any in the party’s history.”
Gingrich may hold the same anti-gay positions as Santorum, but as of now there’s no love lost between the serial philanderer and the religious right. The same is true of Romney, who still is viewed with suspicion by evangelical leaders.
We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in terms of the religious right maintaining its dominant position within the party.