It you have followed Republican politics over the past quarter century or so, you know that GOP White House wins have often been linked to what researchers have called the "pew gap," especially when there are high election-day vote totals among white evangelicals and devout Catholics.
That "pew gap" phenomenon can be stated as follows: The more non-African-Americans voters attend worship services, the more likely they are to vote for culturally conservative candidates -- almost always Republicans.
As I have stated before, it's hard to find a better illustration of this principle than the overture of the 2003 Atlantic Monthly essay called "Blue Movie." This piece focused on a campaign by Bill, not Hillary Rodham, Clinton, but it remains relevant. This passage is long, but remains essential -- especially in light of the very strange Washington Post piece about the remnants of the #NeverTrump movement that is the subject of this post. The Atlantic stated:
Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions. (Someone taking the liberal position, as pollsters define it, dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn't look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.)
Throughout the current White House race, the press has worked overtime to link billionaire Donald Trump to the hearts and souls of evangelical voters, even as evidence emerged that the more evangelicals were involved in their churches, the less likely they were to cheer for the Donald.
Now, a few evangelicals and cultural conservatives have made their peace with Trump. But many, many have not (and there has been a startling silence among traditional Catholics). Here is a recent update on this situation, care of Christianity Today:
Donald Trump is viewed unfavorably by 67 percent of registered evangelical voters, while Hillary Clinton is viewed unfavorably by 81 percent, according to a new survey by Barna Group. ...
By comparison, in World magazine’s latest poll of “evangelical insiders,” 51 percent of the 77 respondents said they would never vote for Trump, while 21 percent said they would vote for him. Only 1 percent said they would vote for Clinton. Instead, 46 percent told World that they would vote for a third-party candidate, regardless of that candidate’s chance of winning.
Meanwhile, NBC News took a “deep dive” through its exit polls and found that “white evangelicals lacked a distinctive leader for their cause for the first time in three election cycles.”
So what about efforts to find a "third way," a more culturally conservative and mainstream alternative to Trump?
It would appear likely that leaders of such a movement (a) would include people with close ties to conservative religious believers (evangelical and Catholic) and (b) would be seeking a candidate that would create enthusiasm among doctrinally conservative religious leaders of various faith groups. If the "pew gap" remains a factor, such a candidate might claim a few crucial states and create electoral-college chaos.
Thus, I was not surprised when I saw this recent tweet:
And this one, as well.
However, I was stunned when I saw the much-promoted Washington Post piece that ran under this headline: "Inside the GOP effort to draft an independent candidate to derail Trump." This piece contains zero information on how evangelical and Catholic leaders are responding to the Trump vs. Hillary nightmare scenario.
Which do you think is more likely, scenario (a) in which these leaders are sitting on their hands as America heads closer to Election Day or scenario (b) in which Post political reporters choose not to interview any of these people, in spite of the crucial role that evangelicals and conservative Catholics have played in previous GOP campaigns, especially successful ones?
Here is the top of this stunningly faith-free news feature:
A band of exasperated Republicans -- including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a handful of veteran consultants and members of the conservative intelligentsia -- is actively plotting to draft an independent presidential candidate who could keep Donald Trump from the White House.
These GOP figures are commissioning private polling, lining up major funding sources and courting potential contenders, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republicans involved in the discussions. The effort has been sporadic all spring but has intensified significantly in the 10 days since Trump effectively locked up the Republican nomination.
Those involved concede that an independent campaign at this late stage is probably futile, and they think they have only a couple of weeks to launch a credible bid. But these Republicans -- including commentators William Kristol and Erick Erickson and strategists Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson -- are so repulsed by the prospect of Trump as commander in chief that they are desperate to take action.
Their top recruiting prospects are freshman Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a conservative who has become one of Trump’s sharpest critics, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who withdrew from the Republican presidential race May 4.
The ultimate dream of this symbolic campaign -- attention all political science and American history majors -- would be to win several states and prevent either Clinton or Trump from clinching a majority in the electoral college. Under the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, that would throw the election into the House of Representatives.
If this happened, millions of voters who cannot imagine voting for Hillary or the Donald would cry, "Hallelujah."
So where are the leaders of those crucial, strategic GOP voters in this story? It seems, in fact, that the Post team went out of its way to avoid any references to religious and/or cultural issues and voters. A haunted story? You think?
Now, look at the Moore tweets featured above -- which may or may not have been written in response to the Post story -- and then read this:
A Romney representative declined to comment. The former nominee has been stinging in his public critiques of Trump, and, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, he tried to shame the business mogul into releasing his tax returns.
Romney also has communicated with Sasse, 44, who has become a favorite of elite conservatives since joining the Senate last year. Sasse spokesman James Wegmann declined to comment on Sasse’s private conversations.
As an ardent defender of conservatism, Sasse is seen by some party leaders as a future national candidate. He stirred a political storm by declaring on social media that he could not support Trump and wanted “some third candidate -- a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”
A favorite of "elite" conservatives? Is that the right word?