Religious Right Bets on Loser

by Stephen H. Miller on January 22, 2012

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.

{ 11 comments }

Houndentenor January 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm

One should not forget among all of this talk of his marital problems that he has other ethical challenges as well.

spaniel January 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Actually, according to data on The Daily Beast, Gingrich got a huge chunk of the conservative Christian vote. Romney got almost none (closet prejudice against Mormon’s making itself felt?), and Santorum was far from locking this segment down. The fact that Gingrich did so well among “values voters” suggests that they are willing to overlook his personal issues so long as they think he will advance their social issues.

spaniel January 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Regarding the support Gingrich got from Evangelical voters, see this article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/22/religious-right-leaders-say-santorum-but-voters-flock-to-gingrich.html

Money quote: South Carolina evangelical voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly for a thrice-married admitted adulterer. Rick Santorum, the squeaky-clean social conservative purist received just 21 percent of born-again support—tying Mitt Romney, whose bland establishment demeanor (and perhaps in part his Mormon faith) caused evangelical leaders to try to find another candidate to coalesce around in the first place.

Houndentenor January 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Never underestimate the hypocrisy of moral crusaders.

another steve January 22, 2012 at 11:32 pm

No one claimed that Gingrich didn’t get a huge percentage of evangelical votes; the blog post said he didn’t get the support of evangelical leaders — they went for Santorum. And that shows an unexpected political weakness for these religious right leaders and their activist organizations (which is a good sign).

Jorge January 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

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.

A citation would be nice, as the exit polls coming out of the state are somewhat vague. On another website I frequent someone cited an exit poll saying Gingrich won a plurality among people who thought a candidate’s religion was important (probably a Mormonism deal, though); Romney got those who think moral character is important.

No one claimed that Gingrich didn’t get a huge percentage of evangelical votes…

I disagree with you. spaniel is right to point out the weakness of Stephen Miller’s post.

spaniel January 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I concede a point to Another Steve, in that Miller’s post does seem to at least imply a line of distinction between evangelical leaders and evangelical voters. The former endorsed Santourm; the latter voted for Gingrich–in droves.

Still, the idea that this indicates a weakening of the power of the religious right seems debatable. They’ve largely succeeded in narrowing the field to people who oppose abortion, want to overturn Roe v. Wade, want a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman, and want DADT to be reinstated. Ron Paul is the only one who doesn’t conform to this model, and nobody thinks he is going to be nominated.

If all plausible Republican candidates carry the banner of the religious right, anyway, it really doesn’t matter who they vote for in the primaries.

Tom Scharbach January 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Well stated, spaniel. Whoever of the last three standing (Paul excluded) is nominated, the religious right has won the war within the Republican Party this election cycle.

John Howard January 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm

My theory is that lots of Santorum supporters decided to cast their vote for Gingrich to make sure Romney didn’t win again. They knew Gingrich was surging and Gincgrich supporters weren’t about to make the same calculated move to Santorum, so they bit their tongues and put Gingrich over the top. They also knew that the race would be a three way tie, an open race, and Romney would be seriously weakened in Florida. Plus, some Romney supporters probably were turned off by the Bain/Tax/RomneyCare stuff and went to Gingrich on the same theory, because they thought Santorum would be throwing away their vote. Remember this was a winner take all state I think, so the danger of “throwing away your vote” is felt by voters more than in the previous two.

Given all that, I think Santorum actually had a real strong showing by people who didn’t mind throwing away their vote.

BobN January 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm

You can tell that Santorum isn’t really running for anything. If he were, there’d be a HUGE STINK over the miscount in Iowa.

Tom Scharbach January 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Santorum is running for Vice President. He’s the Dan Quayle who will conservative credentials to Romney’s ticket.

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