Gandhi once said, “He who says that politics and religion don’t mix, understands neither one.”
Mitt Romney’s pick of congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate is truly historic. If confirmed by the delegates at the Republican National Convention, Romney, a Mormon, and Ryan, a Catholic, will represent the first time in American history that a major political party has chosen a ticket that has no Protestant in either position. It represents both the decline of the evangelical vote and the continuing rise of the so called “Movement Conservatives,” which is overwhelmingly Catholic.
Stop and consider, the U. S. Supreme Court now has six Catholics and three Jews. The election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as president and vice president would mean that there would be no Protestant in the top positions of the executive and judicial branches of government.
With Romney’s appointment of Catholic Paul Ryan, one can now expect President Barack Obama to make a vibrant appeal to evangelical voters in the upcoming general election. There will be another, newer version of “the Joshua project” which he launched last time. The Obama team will hope that evangelicals will just stay home. The Mormon-Catholic ticket of Romney-Ryan will have to hope that the evangelicals will vote against Obama, if not for them.
Protestant are not done. Evangelical Christian numbers, for example, are bigger than ever. A recent Gallup Poll has the number of born again Christians in America over 40%, double what it was when such surveys began in the 1950’s. It is partly why presidential nominee, Senator John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. It is how president George W. Bush won and maintained power during the eight years of his presidency. And it is credited by some for Barack Obama’s crossover appeal to young Republicans in the contest against McCain. But Evangelicals have been increasingly divided as their political leaders fight over mailing lists and the right to “lead” often selling out their own voters to the highest bidder.
Increasingly, the highest bidders have been Movement Conservatives and all of them Catholic. Evangelical leaders James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins all endorsed Catholic Rick Santorum in the past presidential race. Their own Evangelical candidates Governor Rick Perry, Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and Senator Tim Pawlenty were spurned. The local Iowa Christian “Family leader” openly announced to the world that he would offer his services for $ 1 million. He eventually endorsed Santorum.
A similar sellout happened to evangelical Governor Mike Huckabee in 2008. After Huckabee pulled a surprise upset win in Iowa, a South Carolina victory would have pushed him over the top. But some of the same evangelical leaders who went with Santorum over fellow evangelicals this time, jumped on newly announced candidate Senator Fred Thompson back then. It split Mike Huckabee’s showing in South Carolina and allowed John McCain to win the state and eventually the nomination.
Catholic “Movement Conservatives” were always a small, but powerful engine helping to drive and lead the larger conservative movement. Bill Buckley, Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Brent Bozell, Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Ed Feulner have given way to Bill O’Reilly, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity and other modern leaders, all Catholic. But this time, it is the power of the Fox News Channel that has made them transcendent.
Catholic pundits on Fox News have been primarily angling for Catholic Governor Chris Christie this cycle. Just as last time, 2008, they had been talking up fellow Catholic, Rudolph Giuliani. Neither candidate went any place. But in Paul Ryan, their back up man, they may have a winner. He is already being touted on the network as “the next Reagan” and indeed, win or lose, Paul Ryan has a future.
If nothing else, Romney’s appointment has guaranteed that Fox News will be fully engaged. (Was there any doubt.) And if he loses? In 2016 you can expect a showdown between the “Movement Conservatives” and neocons promoting Paul Ryan and the Liberty or Constitutional wing of the GOP promoting Senator Rand Paul. The evangelicals? Sadly, they will be for sale.