The Washington Post has an interesting story about the rising number of evangelicals feeling left out of politics these days and, in particular, out of the Republican Party.
Many evangelicals have grown weary of Mike Huckabee and are convinced that Santorum is unable to win, Ben Carson is a novelty, and Rand Paul is too far removed from them. While evangelical support will not make or break most candidates, they certainly can fund a race and help a candidate go further. Likewise, they become a crucial voting block for Republican candidates in the general election.
Right now there are three candidates who seem most able to tap into evangelical angst. The first is Bobby Jindal who has given one heck of a religious liberty speech in the past year. His speech on the subject generated a lot of favorable buzz among evangelical communities in the United States. Likewise, his story of coming to Christianity resonates with many evangelicals.
Second is Ted Cruz. Evangelicals already connect to Cruz on political issues. Religious liberty and life issues join him to them further. Most evangelicals are socially and fiscally conservative to begin with, so Cruz does not have to work hard to expand his personal base into the evangelical community.
Then there is Rick Perry. Perry is known to be a believer. He has worked with evangelical pastors in Texas who remain influential within the larger community of evangelicals. He’s not afraid to pray and to talk about his faith. He naturally uses language that resonates with evangelicals.
There are two wild cards in here too. Rubio and Pence. Rubio does not talk about faith as much as Perry, nor has he given as grand a religious liberty speech as Jindal. And in the past year, Cruz has taken the conservative limelight from Rubio after the immigration fight. But people who have heard Rubio speak about faith issues know how articulate and genuine he in on the matter. If Rubio decides to run in 2016, he is someone evangelicals will listen to.
In 2012, conservatives tried hard to get Mike Pence to run. The coalition that pushed him was made up of both social and economic conservatives. I also encouraged him. I sat in several meetings and many of those who pushed Pence vouched for his faith and family values. While some have read stories of his common core and medicaid issues and gone soft, Pence is working hard to reach out and explain his side of the story. He was also a frequent prayer warrior in Washington for numerous causes and the D.C. evangelicals have an affinity for him.
All of this raises a larger issue: evangelicals, like many others in politics, will probably divide early. In 2012, late in the game, evangelical leaders in the country all gathered in Texas. I was a part of the meeting. They tried to rally around one candidate, but found they were divided between two: Santorum and Gingrich. This time both are probably out of the running, though Santorum has worked to keep his ties to evangelicals around the country. A Jindal, Cruz, Perry, or possibly a Rubio or Pence could probably steal Santorum’s existing base of support pretty easily because of viability.
Evangelicals are so desperate for a winner, particularly given the closeness of the Hobby Lobby decision and other decisions coming down the pike, they may more quickly consolidate behind one person this year in a way they have no in prior years. And, because of that desperation, they are less likely to go for a Ben Carson in 2016 in the way many went for Herman Cain in 2012. They’ve decided those too far outside the party processes cannot win, so they will hitch their wagon to the guy on the inside who most sounds like the evangelicals on the outside.