One of my favorite lefties is the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, not only because he is talented with words and willing to mix it up on air, but also because he’s willing to swing for the fences in his predictions. Here’s one from his online site that I think we’ll be talking about 15 months from now:
I think the answer to that question is “Yes.” I don’t think evangelical Christianity is finished — indeed, I think the evangelicals are flourishing and will get stronger as they disentangle themselves a political machine and broaden their agenda, as so many in their ranks already have, to issues related to poverty, AIDS and the environment. But as a political movement, the religious right is far less relevant to this moment than it was, say, in 1980 or even in 2004.
I can assure E.J. that values voters are still around in the millions, and their leaders remain deeply respected by those millions. If Dr. Dobson and/or other significant voices with the faith-based electorate decided after prayer and debate that it was a necessary risk to take to sit out a general election in order to keep the life and faith agenda front and center in American politics, the impact on the GOP would be staggering. Just imagine how Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004 would have turned out had religious conservatives not been pulling hard on all their oars.
This obvious truth about the continuing significance of values voters does not mean that the GOP electorate will refuse to nominate a Rudy instead of a Mitt on the bet that the prospect of four to six SCOTUS vacancies will oblige religious leaders and rank-and-file alike to rethink their participation, or alternatively collectively to conclude that more independents and Reagan Democrats are gained for the GOP by a Rudy-led ticket than are religious conservative votes lost by the Giuliani position on abortion rights.
But it isn’t remotely accurate to say that the religious right is “far less relevant” than in years past. The opposite may in fact be true, and E.J.’s subtle invitation to the GOP to treat its evangelical and Catholic base with indifference is not the neutral observation of a bookie in Vegas, but the hopes of a Clintonista that the Republicans will carelessly offend rather than carefully consult with evangelical leaders.
Rudy needs to say again and again: “Dr. Dobson may not care for me very much, but he’s going to love my judicial nominees.”