Despite my best intentions to avoid the Internet last week, news of Sarah Palin's bus tour and her Star of David pendant still somehow seeped into my vacation. Speculation over the 2012 presidential candidates takes up much of the media's excitement as you can imagine reporters preparing to either flock to Palin's campaign or write the campaign obits.
Even in the "who's running for president" speculation, there seems to be fewer religion and politics stories than there were in 2008. Over the past few years, I've helped run the politics blog at Christianity Today, where we've been tracking news, trends, surveys, etc., and I have seen less religion coverage than during the previous election. You'll see some exceptions, like this weekend's coverage of Ralph Reed's conference, but other stories seem to take priority over religion.
Few reporters have noted religion in the Republican field other than Mitt Romney's Mormon faith. Just before Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said he would not run for president, I wrote a column on how he would be the only leading candidate who is a mainline Protestant. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times has a new column out noting that (with Daniels out of the race), we probably will not see any mainline Protestants running for the Republican nomination.
But among the leading candidates for this year's Republican presidential nomination, not one is a member of the Protestant denominations that for so long have dominated American political culture.
Two of the potential candidates are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.); one is a member of an interdenominational evangelical church (former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty); two others are Catholics (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum). Rep. Michele Bachmann, who says she's considering the race, worships at an evangelical Lutheran church; if elected, she'd be the first Lutheran president.
But no matter who wins from this list, it won't be an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian or a Methodist.
McManus notes that the dearth of mainline Protestants generally reflects the news we covered last year that no mainline Protestants serve on the Supreme Court anymore. "On election day, conservative Protestants have more in common with conservative Catholics than with liberal Presbyterians," McManus writes. The whole column, which notes some trends that few reporters have acknowledged, is worth a read.
Perhaps religion and politics coverage will ramp up as reporters consider candidates' church attendance, religious advisers, etc., but I see at least two reasons for the change in coverage: Reporters didn't seem to see "values voters" as significant after 2008 the same way they did in 2004 and there's the confusion over whether the tea party (the hot new group to cover) includes those "values voters." Maybe it will just take reporters a few months to get over the "OMG a Mormon is running" idea before they can move on to more ground-breaking coverage.
Image: Remember that Newsweek cover on Palin as the leader of the religious right? Yeah, that was funny.