Evangelicals welcomed John McCain’s meeting with Billy Graham today, but more importantly, recent appointments, such as Pam Pryor as senior advisor at the RNC, is sending their morale soaring.
After feeling like they had been hung out to dry, with the dumping of Pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley, evangelicals are feeling a little better about John McCain. His meeting today with Billy Graham came just in time. In fact, if my e-mail bag is any indication, for the last ten days some evangelical leaders have been feeling downright warm and fuzzy about the Republican nominee and primarily because of his willingness to use born again Christian staffers at the RNC and in his campaign.
Democrats and the national media have long considered that Blacks, Hispanics, Women and Gays represent “diversity” while evangelicals were to be shunned and demonized for trying to get involved in public life. “Diversity” didn’t apply to them, separation of church and state you know. But the savvy campaign of Barack Obama has represented something more. His new “Joshua” project, an outreach to evangelicals, represents true diversity and a threat to the Republican monopoly on faith.
This is where it gets interesting. If Obama is a different sort of Democrat, it turns out that John McCain is a different sort of Republican. McCain makes no bones about his appreciation for Blacks, Hispanics, Women and Gays, but it is growing increasingly clear that he too is quite willing to include evangelicals. You could call it real life, honest to goodness “diversity” in action. Not just a word but an idea. And now it is happening in both political parties.
If it is new for the Democrats, well, it is sort of new for the Republicans too, who under two Bush presidents and Reagan, usually only got one single token “evangelical liaison” while all other positions were guarded. Only “invisible” evangelicals could sneak through the appointments process, although a number did just that under President George W. Bush.
McCain now has a gaggle of evangelical activists, including Iowa, pro-lifer, Marlys Popma, former Gary Bauer political director, Robert Heckman, and a Liberty University debate coach named Brett O’Donnell.
But the recent appointment of Pam Pryor as senior advisor to the RNC’s Deputy Chairman, Frank Donatelli over at the Republican National Convention has the evangelical leadership positively smiling. Pryor, the little firecracker who served for years as Administrative Assistant to former congressman J. C. Watts and later helped Dave Donaldson move Faith Based Initiatives through the Clinton congress, (yeah, you heard me right, Clinton, not Bush, although it was called Charitable Choice,) is no outsider to the rough and tumble of Washington politics. Pryor, an evangelical who attends McLean Bible Church in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. is smart and effective and knows how to play the game. A reputation for absolute loyalty to her boss, she is not the token evangelical that adorns most presidential campaigns. She can think, act and work the Washington scene well and her connections in evangelicaland are truly extensive.
This is the signal to many evangelical leaders that the McCain team is sincerely planning to reach out to its Republican base. After Carter, Reagan and Bush they grew skeptical of religious testimony and promises of legislation. They demanded appointments, wisely concluding that “people are policy.” It was partly why Herbert Walker was not re-elected in 1992, many evangelical leaders decided he had failed to deliver on promised appointments.
Pryor joins the Popma sisterhood and along with Heckman will give the McCainnannites the sort of experience they need if they want to find a way out of the long dark pit into which they have fallen.
Evangelical leaders can watch the fate of these four staffers and know all they need to known about the success or failure of John McCain’s ongoing outreach to evangelicals. And the more savvy of that vast, religiously illiterate media, can shortcut their workload a bit and do the same thing, for as the McCain evangelical four go, so goes Senator John McCain’s chances as president.