A Warning to the GOP

Deal W. Hudson
November 24, 2008

In an op-ed published after the election, former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness.”

And who are these “social fundamentalists?” In Whitman’s political lexicon, they are “the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research.”

When I read Whitman’s column I had three thoughts:

  1. Why is she putting the label “fundamentalist” on fellow Republican voters?
  2. Does she know she’s also talking about Catholic voters who consider non-negotiable issues before casting their ballot?
  3. Is she asking Catholic and Evangelical voters who care deeply about these issues to leave the party and declare themselves independent?

It’s remarkable that someone who considers herself a leader in the GOP would go out of her way to antagonize millions of voters who have been dependable Republicans for over three decades.

Whitman and the other GOP leaders who have made post-election stabs at social and religious conservatives had better start minding their manners. Whatever happened to the “Big Tent”? The Republican Party may find itself hemorrhaging its most zealous constituency.

Did Gov. Whitman not hear the roar that went through St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center the night Sarah Palin walked out on stage? Here is Whitman’s take on Palin: “Her selection cost the ticket support among those moderate voters who saw it as a cynical sop to social fundamentalists, reinforcing the impression that they control the party, with the party’s consent.”

Gov. Whitman knows very well that the pro-life, anti-gay marriage conservatives don’t “control” the party – such a claim will bring laughs from anyone familiar with the inner workings of the RNC.

Really, Whitman isn’t worried about control; she wants an end to the pro-life plank of the party platform. She wants to take the pro-life pressure off GOP candidates, especially on the national ticket. If the GOP abandons its public stance against abortion and gay marriage, she thinks the “moderates” lost to Obama will return.

Whitman’s numbers are telling, but they don’t actually support her argument. She notes that Kerry won 9% more moderate voters than Bush while Obama stretched that number to 21% against McCain. But if moderates are turned off by “social fundamentalists,” why would they have cast 6.4 million more votes for the evangelical George W. Bush? Kerry was just as liberal as Obama on social issues, and mainline Protestant McCain was more reticent than Bush in discussing them.

Whitman doesn’t mention what is widely recognized as the major cause of the moderate swing to Obama: the economy. In exit polls, Obama led by nine points among the two-thirds of voters who said the economy was the most serious challenge facing the country. Add to that the increased voter registration and turnout among Democrats, deep discontent with the GOP, Democrats’ targeted appeals to sections of the Republican coalition, and you have the reasons for Obama’s victory.

The moderates were not casting ballots against Sarah Palin or the social and religious conservatives she represents – this election was not a referendum on abortion or gay marriage. How could they be when John McCain almost never brought them up?

In reality, McCain’s reticence on social issues contributed to the fact that 4.1 million religiously active voters did not go to the polls on Nov. 4. If there is a warning for the GOP from the presidential election results it is this. As Karl Rove noted, “Americans aren’t suddenly going to church less; something was missing from the campaign to draw out the more religiously observant.”

If Whitman has her way, something will soon be missing from the entire Republican Party that will keep religious conservatives – or should I say “social fundamentalists”? – from serious engagement in GOP politics. Whitman is calling out a potential voting group of 30,000,000 Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, and Mainline Protestants.

In the final chapter of my recent book, Onward, Christian Soldiers, I posted this question for the future, “Will the Democrats Get Religion, Will the Republicans Keep It?” Obama won, in part, because he successfully courted religious voters – the Democrats successfully found religion, at least for one election cycle.

Did the GOP lose religion? No. But when over four million religiously active voters stay home there was certainly what Evangelicals call “backsliding.” If Gov. Whitman has her way, the GOP will offer voters nothing different from the Democrats on abortion and marriage. If that happens, the Republican Party can wave goodbye to religious conservatives.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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