The Candidates’ Shifting Gaze

Like any good blog should, we admittedly experienced a hiatus over the last month and change. But let your fears subside! We hath returned, and will do our very best to proceed with semi-regular content covering, analyzing, and advocating religious minorities in the 2012 election.

Just over six months remain until November 6th–and finally, the general election can begin.

We seem to have reached the phase of this cycle wherein, amid a series of compelling primary victories, a single, shiny, possibly robotic candidate has emerged out of the fray of infighting among the Republican contenders, and directed his efforts towards butting the head of the incumbent Democrat.

And so comes the question that has hidden itself beneath every scenario wherein Romney reigns: where are his (former) fellow Republican contenders’ voters, who have expressed nontrivial discomfort with a Romney-fronted ticket, to turn? Himself being of course, as Chelsey has investigated, “the Mormon” that snuck his businessman backside into the mix of Catholics and Evangelicals that have historically characterized the party (there was also, for a time, Huntsman, but his uncompromising dedication to being not-completely-evil rendered him fairly unlikely ever to go awfully far).

In remaining de fideli to my column’s domain, I’ll focus on Southern Evangelicals, who indeed seem to make up the demographic Romney would be find most strategic to rally in the interest of sustaining the right-wing base.

E Pluribus, Unum (although Romney would prefer the alternative)

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a not-so-foolish April 1st USA Today opinion piece, rightly noted the never-breaking dedication evangelicals have had to the right in past elections: three to one evangelical voters aligned themselves with the GOP nominee in both the 2004 and 2008 elections. Land continues to note that, naturally, Rick Santorum has been far out-supported by evangelicals in the latest primaries, although Romney’s recent appeals to the Tea Party–who naturally overlap with evangelical voters–have proved viable in, for instance, Tennessee.

Land follows with an interesting point: that the “the evangelical…unease about Romney has not been primarily about his Mormon faith but about his earlier pro-choice and liberal social positions.” He argues that to secure the evangelical base, Romney ought to emphasize his “pro-life [anti-choice] and pro-family [anti-family]” positions, and pick an ultra-socially conservative VP. It can of course be noted that McCain suffered from a similar problem with the evangelical base, although he certainly didn’t have to juggle the “Mormon problem”, which he solved in much the way that Land suggests Romney should: emphasizing social conservatism, primarily by picking the Ice Queen of Republicania to join him on the ticket. McCain’s evangelical support in 2008 was negligibly less than that of Bush II four years prior.

An important thing to take from this though, I think, is how Barry Obama might want to respond to the evangelical base shifting behind Romney. Naturally, Obama has warranted enough infamy on the right to rally almost any right-wing base behind his opponent (Land also highlights this fact). So what might the Nobel Peace Prize-recipient-for-not-being-George-Bush do? Seems like it is perfectly aligned with our lovely blog’s mission right here: turn to religious minorities.

This probably isn't as strategically viable as the man on the left might imagine

Using pluralistic language, emphasizing holidays that past presidents have ignored, meeting with faith leaders from a number of backgrounds–many of this is already underway in the Obama administration. But the 1/4 of this country who don’t identify with a Christian denomination are systematically subjugated and fractured by those with the megaphone–particularly in the South–and while some of their responsibility to unite falls upon their own backs (especially through nonreligious-inclusive interfaith partnerships, but that’s another blog), the President has to up his ante. He’s got to identify that his opponent, presumably the aforementioned Romulan but maybe still an ultraconservative superhero, is almost inevitably going to harness the power of the “Moral Majority”, and it is absolutely nonstrategic for him to think himself capable of turning hearts so hardened. But the son of an atheist and a former Muslim shouldn’t have much difficultly bringing himself and his allies to look to the invisible members–indeed, voting members–of predominately Christian communities who can make a significant dent in the armor of the conservative evangelical base.

Not to further the violent imagery, but this battlefield is primarily centered below the Mason-Dixon line. It certainly may feel fruitless to vote, locally or nationally, as a part of a culturally marginalized group. That’s why it is so important for big-name figures–indeed, the biggest name in the world–to align themselves with the loners of Southern American non-Christian households.

EDIT: And, of course, immediately after hitting “Publish” I’m faced with an article shouting that Rick Santorum has ended his candidacy, effectively securing Romney as the nominee. Huzzah for predictability?

Walker Bristol grew up in southeastern North Carolina, in a town somewhat known for being the principal filming location of Dawson’s Creek (his parents, and reality, insist that his brother Dawson was born and named prior to the show’s pilot). He escaped to Boston when he was 17, and now serves Italian food and studies religion and linguistics at Tufts University. He wrestled in high school, but now mostly ballroom dances and jams on the piano with the rest of the Tufts Freethought Society. For the first decade of his life, Walker believed “incorrectly” that he was living in the Star Wars universe. Having never been to space, he remains agnostic on that question.

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