Religious Right Silent at GOP Convention

The Christian Century, August 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

Religious Right Silent at GOP Convention


In 1992, conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan used the Houston Republican convention to dispatch an army of evangelical Christians in his take-no-prisoners "culture war." In 1996, fresh from the Newt Gingrich-led sweep of Congress, the convention floor in San Diego was a sea of "I Love Newt" signs. Evangelicals again flexed their muscles and refused to surrender the party's antiabortion platform plank. Bob Dole grudgingly conceded.

This year in Philadelphia, Buchanan and Gingrich were absent and the other icons of the Religious Right--Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes--were hardly to be seen. It's not that they weren't invited; they were just told not to speak.

Worried that the hard-line Religious Right could hamper Texas Governor George W. Bush's appeal to the middle, Republican leaders carefully kept Robertson and Falwell behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. "They have been given the word, `Don't get anywhere near us. You're radioactive,'" said conservative columnist Cal Thomas.

Surprisingly, Robertson and Co. quietly acquiesced. Fueling the strategy on both sides is a relentless hunger to take back the White House. Conservatives feel it is better to sit quietly for now, rather than make a fuss and alienate enough voters to usher in a Gore administration.

While Bush has talked openly about his Christian faith, by and large he has kept the Christian right at arm's length--working with its leaders but not necessarily embracing them. And while Bush may not be their dream candidate, the Religious Right has realized that such a candidate could probably never get elected. "It's not that these people aren't playing a major role, but now it's behind the scenes, and they see themselves as team players rather than opponents or critics," said Professor John Green of the University of Akron, who has studied the Religious Right. …

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