These are challenging times for the Religious Right. The movement seems to be rapidly losing ground on one of its signature issues, same-sex marriage, and polls show large numbers of young people recoiling from the theocratic agenda of ultra-conservative fundamentalists.
So these groups must be ready to pack up their tents and go home, right?
Not quite. Politico reported last week that the leaders of more than two dozen Religious Right groups met recently in a type of super-council in Tysons Corner, Va., a Washington, D.C., suburb, to strategize about the best way to get back into the game this election year.
The answer they came up with is old-fashioned but often effective: Money.
Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel described the Religious Right’s plan this way: “take a page out of the playbooks of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers by raising millions of dollars, coordinating their political spending and assiduously courting megadonors.”
The formation of a new Religious Right super PAC is just one option under consideration.
The story noted that the Republican Party’s business wing is pouring lots of cash into the 2014 elections, in the hopes of giving the GOP enough of a boost to take control of the U.S. Senate. Members of the party’s well-heeled business faction have vowed that this year they will outspend and outflank social conservatives with the aim of keeping unelectable candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell off state ballots.
Religious Right groups are equally determined to keep their issues front and center in the GOP. The recent event was sponsored by the Council for National Policy, a secretive cabal of far-right groups that seeks to sculpt the Religious Right into a unified phalanx.
Politico reported that 25 organizations participated in the summit, among them Gary Bauer’s American Values, Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. Representatives of various Tea Party groups and organizations affiliated with the infamous Koch Brothers were also on hand.
“There are enough people out there that are pro-life and pro-family that have the resources to fund political efforts on those issues, and for a variety of reasons they just haven’t stepped up and so we have to do a better job of getting them to step up,” Bauer told Politico.
Bauer added that the leaders of Religious Right groups now realize “that we’ve been behind the curve and that we need to do a better job of strategic fundraising and working together in order to get more traction on these issues.”
Bauer and other Religious Right leaders are convinced that the business wing of the Republican Party, despite its money, doesn’t truly represent the party’s base. There may be something to that. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 43 percent of self-identified Republicans say that humans have evolved over time. That number was at 54 percent just four years ago, an indication that the GOP’s base is increasingly composed of religious fundamentalists.
Republican leaders are convinced that voters are angry over the disastrous roll-out of the Affordable Care Act website and the ongoing lackluster performance of the national economy. There may be something to that as well. President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have tumbled recently, and Democrats are worried that their party will suffer at the polls later this year.
But for that to happen, there can be “no fools on our ticket,” Scott Reed of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said recently.
What does all of this mean for advocates of separation of church and state? Chiefly it’s more evidence that the Religious Right isn’t dead yet, despite what some political prognosticators would have you believe. These groups may be outspent by the business wing, but they have considerable influence and support among the rank-and-file party voters, which is no small thing. After all, these are the people who usually turn out for primary elections.
Although the Religious Right can’t match the business faction dollar for dollar, these groups often have a superior ground game. Their ability to mobilize right-wing evangelical voters through churches is legendary – even if it’s of dubious legality.
In short, keep your eyes and ears open. It’s going to be an interesting election year.