The fight for the Republican presidential nomination is a textbook example of why religion and politics don’t mix well.
Every Republican candidate is trying to win over evangelical Christian conservatives, who are estimated to make up perhaps 60% of GOP primary voters. This is forcing them to take ever more extreme positions on hot-button social issues like gay marriage.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on the issue this week, and it seems likely that the court will strike down state gay marriage bans once and for all when it decides the case in late June. It is almost incomprehensible that the court would be so out of step with the American people to let these discriminatory laws stand.
In anticipation of that outcome — the worse possible from an evangelical voter’s standpoint — GOP candidates are trying to figure out how to strike a pose between outrage (which would play well in the primaries) and acceptance (a prerequisite for consideration by any persuadable voter under age 40).
As has been his pattern since entering the race late last year (he will announce formally when the state budget is passed), Gov. Scott Walker is staking out a position to the right of almost everyone in the field. Walker now says that if the court rules in favor of gay marriage he would consider pushing a constitutional amendment allowing states to reenact their same-sex marriage bans.
That is a far cry from where he was just last year, when Walker said that his opinion on the subject was irrelevant. But those were the days when he was courting more moderate Wisconsin general election voters and not the hardcore folks who show up in Republican primaries.
All of which raises the question about just how strongly Walker feels about his espoused Christian values. When the polls were running heavily against gay marriage, Walker said that his religious beliefs made him agree with the majority. But when public opinion and the electorate he was trying to woo moved rapidly toward acceptance of gay unions, Walker discovered that his deeply held religious beliefs were of no import. Now that he needs far-right evangelicals to win the nomination, he has rediscovered how important this issue is to his soul.
Walker says that he prays before making big decisions. While his head is bowed it is just possible that he keeps one eye on a sheet of poll results. Just maybe.
This would all lead a cynical person to conclude that for Walker — and for most of the Republican field — religion is not something at the center of his life, but something that is fungible depending on which election he is trying to win at the moment.
I once worked for a state senator, a deeply devout Roman Catholic, who was against abortion but also against the death penalty. His conservative blue-collar Democratic constituents loved him for his abortion stance but didn’t agree with him on the death penalty. Still, he held his ground because his faith drove him to take both positions. I may have disagreed with John Plewa on abortion while agreeing with him on capital punishment, but I had to respect him for the consistency of his views. If you’re going to let your religion drive your policy, then the test of your sincerity is having the courage to take a position that is consistent with your faith but unpopular with the voters you’re trying to win over.
Scott Walker has never done that. He has always discovered a happy coincidence between the faith he claims to live by and the majority of voters in a particular election he is trying to win. With luck like that, I guess God really must be on his side. Praise the Lord.