Election Day was a lousy day for the Religious Right. But movement leaders have been quick to assert that they are not to blame, pointing fingers variously at Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney, the unknown waiter who recorded Romney’s dismissive “47 percent” remarks, and the strong turnout of young voters and people of color.
Ralph Reed: It’s Not My Fault
Religious Right leaders had spent four years attacking Obama an enemy of faith, freedom, God, and America, only to see him re-elected in an Electoral College landslide. They had warned that defeating him might be a last chance to forestall God’s judgment on America. They fasted and prayed and believed that they would be delivered on Election Day. But that’s not what happened.
Not only did Obama win big, but voters in Maine and Maryland embraced marriage equality, and Washington seems likely to join them. Minnesota voters rejected a Religious Right-backed attempt to put anti-gay discrimination into the state’s constitution. Tammy Baldwin was elected to the Senate, where she will be the first openly gay member.
Well before all those results were in, it was clear that the night was not going according to what Religious Right leaders had thought was God’s plan. At 10 pm, Tony Perkins and Jim Garlow held a phone call briefing for pastors. It was a very subdued affair, with representatives of the state marriage campaigns trying to sound hopeful about the then-uncalled outcomes in their states. Perkins and Garlow also held a Wednesday webcast on the “aftermath and aftershocks” as the scope of their Election Day drubbing sank in (see video highlights). “The problem in America is sin,” said Garlow. But, he said, “we have no problem that the next Great Awakening cannot solve.”
The tendency after an election defeat to avoid blame by casting it elsewhere was in full flower the day after the election. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Religious Right favorite, described Mitt Romney as “the most liberal Republican nominee in history” who had “waffled” on abortion, had passed a health care bill as governor, and had a hard time convincing conservatives on his commitments on taxing and spending. Perkins criticized Romney for not campaigning on issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, even though Obama used them to appeal to his base. Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway agreed, saying Republicans had not done enough to draw the contrast on social and “moral” issues. Regarding the marriage wins, Perkins blamed Obama in part, saying the president’s policies have had “a shaping influence on the culture.” He and others also blamed marriage equality proponents’ financial advantage.
In a Wednesday morning press conference at the National Press Club, Ralph Reed’s message was clear: don’t look at me. Reed had made sweeping promises that the Faith and Freedom Coalition, his conservative voter ID and turnout operation, would stun pollsters and lead to a big conservative victory. “We did our job,” he insisted, recounting the tens of millions of phone calls, mailings, and other voter contacts his group made. He said his group had run the most efficient, most technologically superior voter contact and GOVT operation the faith community has ever seen. He claimed credit for increasing both white evangelicals’ share of the electorate and the share of the vote they gave to the Republican nominee. But it wasn’t enough.
“We can’t do the Republican Party’s job for them. We can’t do the candidates’ job for them.” In part, Reed blamed “candidate performance issues,” his euphemism for the Akin-Mourdoch rape comments that led to their undoing.
Reed said his successful efforts were not in the end sufficient because people of color and young voters turned out in numbers that he had not anticipated — and voted overwhelmingly to re-elect the president. The fact that young voters, African Americans, and Latinos turned out so strongly seems to have stunned conservative figures across the board. And it confirmed for many of them the need for the Republican Party and the conservative movement to stop alienating Latinos and figure out how to attract younger voters. “We need to do a better job of not looking like your daddy’s Religious Right,” said Reed.
Some Religious Right leaders sought solace in faith that God is ultimately in control. “America as we know it may have signed its death warrant tonight,” said Garlow during the pastors’ briefing. But not to worry, he said, nations come and go, but God’s kingdom is forever. Perkins said FRC and its allies would continue to stand strong in the face of “an increasingly hostile culture.”
Others looked forward to the next political fight. Pollster Conway predicted that 2014 would bring, like 2010’s Tea Party wave, a conservative resurgence and called for candidate recruitment to begin now. Perkins agreed that conservatives have never had a stronger “farm team” and touted potential conservative candidates for 2016, including Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, and Mike Pence.