Does anyone out there remember the wave of press coverage for the gigantic Promise Keepers "Stand In The Gap" rally on the National Mall long, long ago?
I was there as a color commentator for MSNBC, believe it or not, and all through the day I watched the national press try to turn the event into a Republican rally. That was hard, since nearly half of the speakers were African-Americans and the crowd of a million or so included lots of men whose views were focused on moral and cultural issues, as opposed to partisan politics.
This was the Woodstock of the multiracial charismatic movement, I noted, and by the end of the day it was very clear that most of the speakers were convinced that they were not going to be able to count on the Republican Party to defend centuries of Judeo-Christian doctrines on marriage, family and sex. Forget Bill Clinton, I said, if anyone had reason to worry at the end of that rally it was Newt Gingrich.
Now, ever since then the mainstream press has -- justifiably so -- offered up a stream of stories about evangelicals being disaffected with the Big Tent that is the modern Republican party, with the moral and cultural conservatives squaring off again and again against the Libertarians and the old, establishment Country Club moderates.
That's a valid story. It just isn't a new one.
The key is to get the big picture: Moral conservatives have become, to the GOP, what labor unions are to the Democrats. The party leaders don't have to offer much to them, in terms of substance, because they literally have no other election-day options other than staying home.
This brings me that Washington Post story that ran the other day under this tired, old-school headline: "Some evangelicals in Republican Party are feeling left out, see no standard-bearer."
There is literally nothing new in this piece. Only the names have changed. Also, readers can sense the old, old, old yearning in the Post team for these "evangelicals" -- there are, of course, no moral conservatives in America other than evangelicals -- to call it a day, give up politics and go home to read their Bibles, privately.
In the following passages, count the number of times the Post team uses the tricky, analysis-friendly word "could." First there is this overture in this pivotal part of the story.
The disconnect between social conservatives and the GOP has become a “chasm,” said Gary Bauer, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and is now head of the Campaign for Working Families. He pointed to the party’s two most recent presidential nominees, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as examples of candidates who were touted initially as having broad appeal to centrists in the general election but ultimately never inspired evangelicals and lost.
“Values voters have been treated as the stepchildren of the family, while the party has wanted to get on with so-called more electorally popular ideas,” Bauer said. “The Republican base will not tolerate another candidate foisted upon us as a guy who can win.”
Now, start counting the interjections of "could." Go.
Discontent among evangelicals could have implications for the GOP next year as campaigning for the presidential nomination escalates in early-voting states such as Iowa, where social conservatives are a major bloc. Their presence could complicate matters for top-tier candidates such as Christie and Paul who want to remain viable in a general election but will feel pressure to appeal to religious voters. A surge of support for more fiery contenders such as Carson or former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) could turn candidate debates into a spectacle while pulling everyone to the right, affecting the party’s image more broadly.
Wow. That's three "could" references in one paragraph! Keep going!
Even if social conservatives turn out this year to support like-minded candidates for Congress and help propel the GOP into the Senate majority, they could just as easily decide to sit out a presidential race if they feel the party again has produced a nominee who does not represent their interests.Their absence could mean fewer votes for the Republican nominee in closely contested swing states. And perhaps more important, it could also mean fewer campaign volunteers to staff phone banks and knock on doors. Active churchgoers can be among a campaign’s most effective ground army.
Three more in the next paragraph! I think you get the picture.
Now, what is missing in this story? The key, for me, is that the words "religious liberty" do not appear and neither do the words "First Amendment." There is a chance that a Republican (or hey, maybe even a Democrat!) could make a strong stand in favor of freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion and rally people around a kind of old school, old liberalism, tolerance based compromise on some of the hot-button issues of our day, especially on moral issues (think health care, higher education and the definition of marriage, as key battle fronts).
I know that here inside the Beltway -- the location of the Washington Post newsroom -- that is what I keep hearing traditional religious believers talking about. Hey, some of that talk COULD have found its way into this very old story. Just saying.