As a follow-up to my previous post on the problems Giuliani will face in the presidential race, I just thought of another one: Religious leaders don’t need him. In fact, if they were honest, they’d all admit that befriending the Bush Administration was a huge mistake that did little more than allow the Bushies to screw them over. But it didn’t give them real power, and certainly never amounted to the giant shift in religious policy that the Bushies had hinted at for the past eight years.
And if anything, by giving their support too early, they threw away all their cards and were left to rely on Rove’s benevolence to get anything. And Rove is not a benevolent man. Sure, the Bushies gave them more than they should have, and did quite a few things that reasonable people should find offensive. But that’s not what the religious right wants. They don’t want a few favors, or a humble abstinence-only program, or a handful of unnoticed appointments. They want the world. They think God gave it to them, and can’t understand why the Bushies keep holding back. And now they feel burned.
Besides, Bush just wasn’t good for business. With Clinton, religious leaders were holy crusaders sent by the Lord to save America from the tyranny of liberalism. But under Bush, they were little more than a small part of Rove’s Republican Fiefdom. Just one of a handful of special interests that Rove paid lip service to and gave a few bones. And while business leaders and neo-cons can be satisfied with a sympathetic ear and some old-fashioned favors, that doesn’t do anything for the religious conservatives. They don’t want a measly war and tax savings. They’re trying to save the soul of humanity, as well as their own.
And so why should religious leaders offer their support to any of these candidates? Once it’s been given, it’s somewhat awkward to retract it. Yet the only thing a candidate can offer is unproven promises, which Bush has shown can be offered much more easily than they can be fulfilled. Besides, any Republican who becomes president will still need the religious right. And that’s the time to start wheeling and dealing; when they’ve got all the power, yet the luster of election day has been left behind for the reality of having to do stuff. By then, they’re not waiting for the president to make good on promises, but are in a position to demand it. And that’s something they totally screwed-up last time.
And again, it’d be better for them to allow the Democrats to win, and then demonize the Democrat. The Christian Coalition survived only because they could feast on Clinton’s unholy carcass, but under Bush, it became a debt-burdened joke. And I betcha the rest of the religious leaders would say the same, were they being honest. The religious right is heavily motivated by being an underdog. As Christians, it’s part of their ideological DNA. And it’s kind of hard to act like an underdog when your religious leader gets to speak to the president every week.
So there’s no reason for religious leaders to offer their support to any Republican candidate, unless it was a candidate with a proven record of supporting religion and who will gladly give the religious right everything they want. And Rudy’s clearly not that guy. And without the religious leadership, it’s almost impossible to get the religious vote. And without the religious vote, it’s almost impossible to get the nomination. And with the religious vote, it’s almost impossible to win the general election. As a pretend Born Again Christian who avoided overt religious messages, Bush was able to thread that needle. But as I said in the last post, he sucked that gravytrain dry, and it’s unlikely to work for anyone else for a long time.
Overall, I think the Republican leadership is going to learn to regret their pro-Southern, pro-Religious strategy. It helped out in the short term, but the rest of the country is now catching up with what happened and shifting accordingly. The GOP thought they had tapped some brand new oil field, but now they’re stuck with a gusher that keeps scaring everyone else away.