I’m not sure what’s come over me and I suppose it’ll pass, but at just this moment I’m feeling a little bit sorry for evangelical conservatives. They were apparently pretty droopy, these proceedings over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit, as my colleague Ben Jacobs described things. Oh, yes, Ted Cruz fired them up, and some of the old stalwarts put in respectable appearances, but they have to know deep down that they’re like the horse-and-buggy lobby after Henry Ford has hit town. It’s only a matter of time.
I refer here chiefly to same-sex marriage, the big issue on which the cultural right now represents a quickly shrinking minority. You know the storm clouds are gathering when even Michele Bachmann is throwing in the towel—she declared same-sex marriage “not an issue” and even “boring” at the meeting.
But it’s not just same-sex marriage. The country has liberalized culturally in a range of ways in the past six or eight years, and it’s not only not going back, it’s charging relentlessly forward. The religious right also has no leaders anymore of the remotest interest. Back in the ’80s, Jerry Falwell was a figure to contend with; to loathe, certainly, but also to fear. Today? Pat Robertson has lost his marbles, seemingly, and after him, who? Tony Perkins? No one even knows his name, or if they do, they inevitably think of the guy who played filmdom’s most famous matricidal cross-dresser and aren’t entirely sure that this Tony Perkins might not be that Tony Perkins, which is not quite the type of association they’re looking for.
It’s a group that is losing power, and I think the leaders and even the rank-and-filers know it. Their vehicle, the Republican Party, is going libertarian on them. Rand Paul, whether he wins the 2016 nomination or not, is clearly enough of a force within the party that he is pushing it away from the culture wars. He is joined in this pursuit by the conservative intellectual class, which knows the culture wars are a dead-bang loser for the GOP and which finds the culture warriors more than a little embarrassing, and by the establishment figures, the Karl Rove types, who stroked them back in 2004 but who now see them as a liability, at least at the presidential level. There are still, of course, many states where these voters come in quite handy in that they elect many Republican representatives and senators.
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