When the Republican Party started pandering to the Christian right in 1970s, it probably seemed like a smashing idea to get votes: Thump the Bible a little, denounce abortion, imply that white Christians are the only “real” Americans and watch the votes roll in.
But now, nearly four decades later, those chickens are coming home to roost. Once they were in the front door, conservative Christians basically took over the joint, dictating practically every move the party makes. And while Republicans continue to win many elections with this strategy, the public is growing increasingly impatient with the God botherers, uterus investigators, and gay-haters that make up the Christian right. If things don’t change for the Republican Party, they will soon find themselves increasingly marginalized in a country that is quickly becoming more diverse and secularized.
If Republicans are smart, they’re going to have to start untying the knot between themselves and the Christian right. Here’s a few ways they could do that, if they wanted.
1) Admit you’ve lost the gay marriage battle. In a couple of decades, same-sex marriage went from a novelty idea to a mainstream idea, in no small part because every time Christian conservatives tried to argue against it, they sounded like utter fools. Marrying a man is like marrying a turtle? Your gay neighbors making it legal is a threat to your marriage? These kinds of asinine arguments got anti-gay suits laughed out of court and now a solid majority---and growing---of voters support gay marriage.
But instead of giving up and pretending they were never gung-ho against same-sex marriage, Republicans are trying to raise hell over the supposed “rights” of bakeries and florists to shame gay couples by refusing them service for their weddings. Not only is this move openly mean-spirited, but it suggests that the anti-gay movement is desperate and scrounging around desperately for some kind of relevance. Give it up and just let gay people be, Republicans. It’s beginning to be pathetic.
2) Drop the war on women. Republicans knowthat prosecuting the Christian right’s war on women hurts them with regular voters. That’s why they constantly deny that there is a war on women, trying to pretend that restrictions on abortion rights, attacks on contraception coverage, filibusters of equal pay legislation and attacks on the White House’s anti-rape campaign have anything to do with misogyny or the Christian right belief that a woman’s role is to be chaste and in the home. But attempts to end narrative about the Republican war on women have only amounted to simply denying that it exists and denying that all these attacks on women’s rights constitute a pattern.
That’s not good enough. Even low information voters are going to notice that the Republican attacks on women are piling up and denial can only get you so far. The best way for Republicans to start distancing themselves from the war on women is simple: Stop waging it. Drop the anti-choice legislation, stop attacking insurance coverage of contraception, and let Democrats pass equal pay bills. A few angry anti-choicers might sit out elections, but you might very well make up for it by closing the gender gap at the polls.
3) Evolutionary biology is not the end of the world. It’s actually understandable why so many Christians are threatened by the idea of evolution, as it gives us a way to understand how we got here without any supernatural interference. But just because evolutionary theory means that it’s easier to be an atheist doesn’t mean that Christians have much to worry about. The blunt truth of the matter is most people aren’t religious because they want to hear that God made Adam and Eve. Most people are religious for social reasons---because their families and friends are---and because they like to believe it helps give life meaning. Because of this, most people have decided that it can both be possible that evolution happened and that God had a hand in it.
Basically, the smart move now would be to drop it. Most people don’t really care as long as you don’t press the issue, but continuing to push Jesus-rode-a-dinosaur nonsense does run the chance of scaring people off. Americans are fairly open to being asked to mind their own business. Stop fighting scientists and let creationism fade, like other superstitions, into a personal belief that has no political salience. You’ll be happier for it.
4) To put distance between Republicans and the religious right, you need actual distance. Putting a bunch of conservative Christian ministers and religious ideologues in positions of power, by having them run campaigns, treating them like close advisors, or even having them run for office seems like a good idea on paper. These people are, after all, plugged into huge social networks and can get out the vote like nobody’s business.
But then they open their mouths and talk. They are Todd Akin, who started off as an anti-choice activist and ended his career in politics by saying women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” They are, like the new head of Rick Perry’s PAC, men who say that God wants to bar women from being leaders in “the family, the church, and the state.” If you give them power, they will talk. And every time they do, they disgust more people and run them off.
5) Stop invoking “religious liberty” as a reason to hurt others. Kudos to the first conservative Christian who realized that you could confuse people by justifying attacks on others through “religious freedom”. Claiming “religious freedom” is only protected by depriving women of contraception coverage or by discriminating against gay people has been successful in accomplishing those goals, even though they objectively diminish the freedom of others to make their own choices about their own lives and beliefs.
But you’ve unleashed a monster. Now that “religious freedom” is being treated as cover to do whatever you want, however you want to other people, the Christian right is going hog wild. Now the Catholic Church is claiming that it doesn’t have to pay restitution to people raped by priests because of “religious freedom”. People are going to start seeing that this “religious freedom” thing is nothing more than rolling your eyes upwards and saying that you don’t have to follow the laws, even laws protecting victims of violence, if you don’t want to. Using God as a get-out-of-jail-free card is going to turn the public on Republicans eventually, at this rate.
So there are my five pieces of advice. Not that I expect Republicans to take the advice, which is just as well. If they become a regional party that only represents angry white people in the Bible Belt, it would probably be better for the country as a whole, after all.