Crisis of Conservatism? The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement and American Politics after Bush

By Joel D. Aberbach; Gillian Peele | Go to book overview
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6
The Christian Right and
Contemporary Politics
A Movement at the Crossroads

MARK J. ROZELL

The Christian Right has been a fixture in U.S. politics since the 1970s. Its emergence on the political scene was little noticed until the 1980 elections, when the Republican Party not only achieved a landslide presidential victory but turned 12 seats in the U.S. Senate and took majority status. Few had predicted such an outcome, and political observers searched for an explanation for having missed the incoming political upheaval. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, then the head of the religious conservative group Moral Majority had an answer: that he and his organization had helped to mobilize as many as four million previously apolitical evangelicals into electoral participation that year and they had supported Ronald Reagan and the GOP.

The rise of the Christian Right thus became a major story in U.S. politics, and Falwell was one of the most ubiquitous figures featured in the media. In 1984, Falwell confidently told supporters that Ronald Reagan’s reelection would deliver two new pro-life Supreme Court justices and that the Christian Right was moving toward one day overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion. The Reagan years looked to be the era of the Christian Right in U.S. politics.

Yet by the end of Reagan’s second term the movement could claim very few significant policy achievements. Christian Right leaders and activists liked the president’s rhetoric, but they were disappointed by the lack of social issues emphasis on the part of his administration. The core issues of the Christian Right had simply gone to the back burner while Reagan’s administration focused on the economy at home and fighting communism abroad.

At the end of the 1980s, many observers declared the Christian Right movement a failure and even on the verge of extinction. In 1988, the religious broadcaster Rev.

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