Religion and Campaign 2012: Religious Right Forces Are Seeking to Control Presidential Politics and Play a Dominant Role in This Year's Elections
Boston, Rob, Church & State
He's been married three times and is an admitted adulterer, features that would seem to make Newt Gingrich an unlikely standard-bearer for the hyper-moralistic brigades of the Religious Right. But with a little mental gymnastics, all things are possible.
"Maybe the guy in the race that would make the best president is on his third marriage," Steve Deace, a prominent Religious Right leader in Iowa, recently mused to writer Michelle Goldberg of "The Daily Beast" website. "How do we reconcile that?"
One way is to do what Deace did and compare Gingrich with King David, the Old Testament figure who committed adultery with another man's wife but later repented.
"I see a lot of parallels between King David and Newt Gingrich, two extraordinary men gifted by God, whose lives include very high highs and very low lows," Deace added.
The rise of Gingrich, whose campaign was on life support as recently as the summer, has stunned many political analysts. Once again, they may have underestimated the Religious Right.
In an unusually religion-soaked primary season, faith has been front and center for months, as a crowded field of GOP hopefuls seeks to assure conservative Christians that they're ready to hoist the banner for faith and family, as the Religious Right defines those terms.
The Almighty has frequently been pressed into service. Addressing a crowd of young Republicans in Atlanta Nov. 12, businessman Herman Cain, who has since suspended his campaign, announced that God told him to run for president.
"I had to do a lot of praying for this one, more praying than I have ever done before in my life," Cain said. "And when I finally realized that it was God saying that this is what I needed to do, I was like Moses: 'You have got the wrong man, Lord. Are you sure?'... Once I made the decision, I did not look back."
But there was a problem: Cain was the fourth Republican candidate to claim God's blessing. The deity also convinced U.S. Rep. Michele Bach-mann (R-Minn.) to run and gave a green light to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. For good measure, God assured Karen Santorum, wife of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, that her husband should also be in the race.
God, it is said, works in mysterious ways. Those who claim to serve God -or, in this case, the Religious Right - usually work in more predictable ways. And this campaign season has seen the Religious Right playing its appointed role: purging the Republican Party of moderates and working to keep the candidates as closely aligned with its theocratic vision as possible.
It would be easy to argue that the Religious Right is seeking to dominate the GOP race - and is doing a pretty good job of it. For months, political pundits ensconced in Washington, D.C., insisted that the race was really no race at all. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would be the nominee, they declared.
Just one problem: Republican voters hadn't signed off on that deal. As summer blended into fall, poll watchers noted with interest that Romney rarely cracked 25 percent support in any national poll. Furthermore, other candidates were constantly nipping at his heels and sometimes overtaking him.
In late summer, Perry briefly topped Romney in national polls before self-destructing due to a string of debate gaffes. Cain then took the lead, before he tumbled over allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity and announced on Dec. 3 that he was suspending his campaign. By that point, Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, had leaped ahead.
It didn't take a CNN political analyst to figure out what was going on: Romney's support just wasn't that deep, and the candidate hadn't generated much genuine enthusiasm. Among Religious Right voters especially, the Mormon who served one term as governor of a bluer-than-blue state was looking like a crap shoot. Some Religious Right activists signed onto Romney's campaign seeing him as the most likely person to depose President Barack Obama, whom they despise. …