Throughout this depressing White House campaign, Washington Post coverage has been split in a really interesting way when dealing with religion and American politics. This trend continued in a new piece that ran with this headline: "As Trump delivers his Gettysburg address, Republicans prepare for a civil war."
As has been the norm among elite news media, the Post has run its share of breathless "Evangelicals love Donald Trump!" reports.
That's fine. Strong support for Trump among a significant minority of white evangelicals has been a major trend, along with the fact that many others in that camp have reluctantly concluded (Christianity Today report here) that they have to vote for the Donald in order to accomplish their primary goal -- defeating Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the moral and cultural left.
However, when dealing with the politics of the White House race, the Post political desk has basically ignored the role of religious faith in both political parties and among the surprisingly large number of #NeverTrump #NeverHillary voters who have frantically been seeking third-party options. This "horse race" coverage has been amazingly religion free.
With that in mind, let's look at a key early chunk of the Post Gettysburg story:
It was ironic that Trump chose Gettysburg, the site of one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War, for his speech. Win or lose, Republicans are probably headed toward a civil war of their own, a period of conflict and turmoil and a reckoning of potentially historic significance. That debate has already begun, as the tension between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan has shown throughout the year. It will only intensify after Nov. 8. ...
The Republican presidential nominee has not only failed to unify the GOP; but his candidacy has also intensified long-standing hostility toward the party establishment among the grass-roots forces backing him. That tension has made it harder to find a solution to a major problem: The Republican coalition now represents growing shares of the declining parts of the electorate -- the inverse of what an aspiring majority party should want.
Note the "grass-roots" reference.
That leads me to ask a simple question based on trends in American political life since 1973 or so: If the GOP is about to have a civil war (and I agree that this is likely), then does it matter where most white evangelicals, Mormons, pro-Catechism Catholics and other culturally conservatives go? Can anyone imagine grass-roots GOP politics without millions of religious conservatives showing up in primaries and at the polls? Are country-club and corporate folks enough?
Forget about the fading organizations of the Religious Right for a moment.
Just think about the people (and their children) in those red pews and pulpits. Where will those people (and their votes) go now and in the near and distant future?
You see, while the number of "nones" and secularists is on the rise -- a very important trend, especially for Democrats -- the percentage of truly religiously committed Americans is not changing that much. What is shrinking is the mushy middle of the cultural and religious spectrum in American life.
Now, back to the Post report. As is often the case, it was hooked to a report by the Pew Research Center, as in: “The Parties on the Eve of the 2016 Election: Two Coalitions, Moving Farther Apart.” Note the three elements of the Pew analysis:
The major demographic changes are well known. The United States is becoming more diverse racially and ethnically, better educated overall and with a population that is aging. Pew’s analysis found the following: “The Democratic Party is becoming less white, less religious and better-educated at a faster rate than the country as a whole, while aging at a slower rate. Within the GOP, the pattern is the reverse.”
So we are dealing with race, religion and education.
Anyone want to guess which one of those three important factors in American life is ignored in the rest of this Post political-desk report? You got it.
Obviously, one of the big stories of the year is the move by millions of blue-collar Americans, normally a key piece of the Democratic Party coalition, into the Trump army. The Democrats are certainly getting more than their share of votes among the emerging American techno-upper class and super-educated elites. That's important. The Democrats have coalition issues of their own. Right, feel the Bern soldiers?
Why is Clinton's vote total going to be somewhere in the high- to mid-40 percent range? Why not a smashing majority for one of America's best known politicians (as she candidly stated on one memorable occasion)? What are the other forces that are in play?
All I am asking is this: If (a) the cultural coalitions in the two parties are moving further and further apart and (b) the GOP is about to have a civil war, then (c) why is the Post political team ignoring the role of religious and moral issues in that story?
Just asking. Again and again and again.