McCain’s Latest, Biggest, Religious Stumble

mccainhagee2.jpgJohn McCain’s rejection of John Hagee’s endorsement today is the starkest example yet of McCain’s ham handed approach to dealing with the Christian Right and with handling religious matters generally. It’s a striking contrast to era of George W. Bush, whose political rise was largely a result of having mastered Christian Right and evangelical outreach, in connecting with believers personally and mobilizing them organizationally.
McCain’s deficiencies in those areas also contrast sharply with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whose sophisticated campaigns to win evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, and other religious voters just four years after John Kerry refused to engage in faith-based organizing and messaging suggest that both learned more from Bush about religion’s role in American politics than McCain did.
It’s telling that McCain didn’t just accept Hagee’s endorsement, but actively pursued it, as he did with Rev. Rod Parsley, the Ohio evangelist who’s come under fire for spouting vehemently anti-Muslim views. Chastened by his 2000 loss after having called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance,” McCain was eager to patch up relations with the Christian Right for his ’08 bid. So he went to Falwell’s university to deliver a commencement address and reached out to the evangelists who would take his calls, like Hagee and Parsley.
Of course, such maneuvers were relatively simple and painless. Yet McCain, unlike Bush–and Ronald Reagan before him–never took the time to study up on the difficult art of appealing to evangelicals and their political leaders. And without that kind of schooling, faith-based messaging and outreach is a minefield. Howard Dean found that out during his 2004 campaign, when his off-the-cuff remark that the Old Testament Book of Job was his favorite part of the New Testament inspired tag-wagging among the true believers who’d long suspected Dean was a secular elitist.
For McCain, the most glaring example of his unwillingness to treat religious outreach seriously is that his campaign still lacks a fulltime religious outreach director. Bush had a handful of such strategists aboard his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, including such talented figures as former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed. Both Obama and Clinton hired fulltime religious outreach directors as soon as they launched their campaigns early last year, and have filled out their faith-based teams with more personnel since then.
Those are the kind of staffers that could have averted, or at least better managed, the Hagee disaster for McCain. At the very least, they would have known about Hagee’s history of anti-Catholic statements, which blindsided the McCain team and triggered the initial firestorm over Hagee’s endorsement.
Instead, having been newly chastened by the Hagee ordeal, McCain may be loath to reach out to other Religious Right figures. Come November, that cold shoulder could have McCain in more political hot water than controversial endorsements from evangelical leaders.


Comments read comments(16)
post a comment

posted May 23, 2008 at 3:45 am

What frustrates me about the American Church and politics is that the Church is allowing itself to be played by what is essentially and Constitutionally a secular government and poltical system. Jesus never fell for it, and neither should the Church being that it currently represents Jesus in the interim before His return. Remember, when He was asked whether Israelites should pay taxes to their Roman rulers, despite good reason to the contrary, Jesus did not take the bait. He responded “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The Church as a religious institution should not engage in political activism to bring about heaven on earth through the law, but instead focus on winning the hearts of man over to the gospel and lordship of Jesus Christ by first and foremost living the example of Jesus.

report abuse

Jack Brooks

posted May 23, 2008 at 7:07 am

Religion in America requires a roadmap, no less than the political factions. Most Evangelical leaders could have warned McCain about Hagee. Richard Land with the SBC could have warned him. There are websites available. Wikipedia is there, fer cryin’ out loud. Hagee isn’t an Evangelical. You don’t seek someone’s endorsement if you don’t know them and what they stand for. McCain’s people were just plain lazy; and this gaffe shows that they don’t have anyone they can simply ring up and confidently ask, “Hey, what can you tell me about So-and-So?”.

report abuse

James Ford

posted May 23, 2008 at 9:07 am

After reading McCain’s comments and his rejection of Hagee and Parsley, I both called and emailed McCain’s camp to share with them that they had lost my vote, my wife’s vote and five other votes I know of last night. I have always voted Republican, until this year. I don’t believe McCain realizes how much this is going to cost him. I believe he will lose a million votes (as least), over his actions as well as the White House. As soon as I can, I am going to cancel all Republican emails, etc. that I receive and have my name taken off the roll as a Republican. I have not left the party, the party has left me.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 9:37 am

James, what was it about this incident that pushed your button? Do you feel that McCain should have stood by these ministers in spite of their statements? Do you agree with their statements?

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 10:11 am

How do we know that Hitler wasn’t an instrument of God’s will? Or that Katrina did not represent the wrath of God? Does God use the weather as an instrument of his will. How would we know?

report abuse

A. T. C.

posted May 23, 2008 at 11:58 am

To my knowledge, McCain does not pretend to be a Christian like Bush did and, I guess, still does. It is really difficult to believe that the Republican party has done a complete 180 and has nominated a secularist for president. Now that I have said that, he may claim Christianity tomorrow and then deny it after a few days pass. Mc Cain is so desperate for votes, he says what he thinks it takes to get the vote of one group, that offends another group and forces him to continually flip flop on a lot of issues. Mc Cain was until recently one of the most respected Republicans by nearly all groups. He has gone from that to being a laughing stock in the few weeks the light has been shined on him and we have all had a good look.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Maybe now the candidates will understand that an endorsement by an evangelist is not all it is cracked up to be, in fact can be a minefield.

report abuse

Jeff B

posted May 23, 2008 at 12:31 pm

In today’s San Antonio Express-News, Hagee complains that his words were misused for “political purposes”. That is rather hypocritical considering that Hagee has positioned himself as a political power broker who should be sought out for endorsements. Republicans such as Gov. Rick Perry, Senator John Cornyn are regulars speakers at Cornerstone.
All this begs the question- is Hagee finally admitting that he’s a politician without a party? Pastors who give specific political endorsements are political lackeys, and should be paying taxes for their political support.
Although I’m not a McCain supporter it’s refreshing to see that our political leaders and the general public are finally recognizing the idioacy of hateful theologicial bile that spews from megachurches lead by the likes of millionaires like Hagee, Falwell, Parsley and others. It’s about time that we start to make the distinction between traditional Christianity which teaches that we are saved by grace through faith. It is unearned and undeserved. No one “finds” Jesus. No one has earned salvation. The prosperity gospel is a cheap attempt to bribe God.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 12:32 pm

We all know that separation of church and state is the governing order in this world as we know it. Therefore, I will not allow my “religious” beliefs to cloud my judgement in deciding who to vote for. I’m looking for integrity (as much as possible), willingness to learn (humility), ambition to take the country out of this slump into a thriving country that can constructively help others, etc. In other words CHARACTER. We know that the earth is the Lord’s and He can do whatever he wants, also he always works things out for our good. Therefore, it should not matter who endorses who or refuses whose endorsement. I don’t worship McCain, Haggee or Parsley; I worship God. That is why all decisions in this electoral process should be made based on God’s principles (transcribed to fit into this imperfect world) not on emotionalism.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 12:37 pm

McCain is every bit as religious as Bush — which is to say “Not very.” The big difference is that Bush’s handlers put the right words in his mouth and did all of the necessary legwork for him.
Bush & his handlers *used* the Religious Right in order to gain power for himself and his cronies. He doesn’t and has never had the first clue as to what being a Christian means, being content to twist it for political purposes.
Tell me what 8 years of Bush and Republican Party rule has gotten the Religious Right. Nothing. They held almost complete power for 6 years and got all of their political agendas through … but strangely seemed unable to do anything the Religious Right wanted.
The Corporatist Republicans used the Religious & Social Conservatives, who were gulled into accepting sweet words and assurances over action.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 2:37 pm

That’s what I love about the McCain-Hagee relationship. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. If he accepts Hagee, then McCain appeases hate-mongers. If he denounces Hagee, then he’s seen as not worthy anough by evangelical Christians.
Coupled with the mass exodus of lobbyists from McCain’s campaign after his new internal etics standards were announced it’s obvious that McCain is walking through a landmine field of self-imposed ethical decisions and political consequences which will have him treading carefully just to maintain his own base.
Hypocrisy – the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks Senator McCain!

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 3:17 pm

pkohan: You commented “If he denounces Hagee, then he’s seen as not worthy anough by evangelical Christians.”
Let me interject a caution: All “evangelical Christians” are not members of the “Religious Right.” Many of them actually know true Christianity and are horrified at the politicalization and debasement of their religion. We should be careful not to tar an entire group of people because of the actions of a loud, but vocal, minority within their ranks.
The Religious Right is neither Religious nor Right. They are a group with a political agenda who have done more to discredit true Christianity and Conservatism than any “Godless Communist” or “Secular Liberal.”

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 3:49 pm

ATC writes:

It is really difficult to believe that the Republican party has done a complete 180 and has nominated a secularist for president.

Actually, McCain appears to be a person of genuine faith who has attended an evangelical church for nearly 20 years. Check out the interview he gave to Beliefnet last year. That’s what’s so mystifying about his clumsy evangelical outreach.

report abuse


posted May 23, 2008 at 3:51 pm

The funny thing is even after McCain had to denounce the remarks Hagee made about Catholics, his campaign sat on it’s hands and didn’t do any further vetting to see if this wackadoodle had any other unvetted nonsense floating around. So McCain figured he could denounce the words but not the man and that came back around to bite him in the ass.
McCain sought out this endorsement and tried to do everything he could to keep after since he put in so much work to get it.
Good job McCain. I can’t wait to see what other damage you do to your campaign this summer.

report abuse


posted May 24, 2008 at 12:59 am

The evangelical’s (and I used to be one) is this: they are so addicted to power and having a place at the table of government for the past 8 years, that they will even give their endorsement to a candidate they despise, because he is the only Republican left, and to endorse a Democrat would be selling their souls to the devil!
And McCain, likewise, doesn’t think he can win the election without their support, and so he grovels at their feet for their endorsement.
And it blew up in both of their faces! All this has NOTHING to do with God, spirituality, or the teachings of Jesus. It is naked politics and ambition at it’s very worst! Hopefully, in this election, all that pretend piety will crumble away and voters (and I’m talking to you, Evangelicals!) will not be as gullible as in the last two elections, voting self-righteously around 2 or 3 core issues such as abortion and homosexuality! This time try voting FOR something, like unity, tolerance, caring for the poor, creating community, instead of against stuff . . .

report abuse


posted May 24, 2008 at 1:02 am

(oops! I meant: “The evangelical’s PROBLEM is this:”)

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Closed for the Season
With Election Day finally having come and gone, God-o-Meter is closing up shop till 2012--or at least 2010. Till then, get your faith and politics fix over at Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steve Waldman's blog. 7 ...

posted 4:32:33pm Nov. 19, 2008 | read full post »

On The Religious Left, Great Expectations
The first priorities for Barack Obama's administration will be the economy and a variety of foreign policy issues. But the burgeoning religious left, which worked so hard to get Obama elected, expects some movement on its issues, including a ...

posted 1:49:31pm Nov. 07, 2008 | read full post »

Howard Dean's Vindication
God-o-Meter wrote a piece for today's Roll Call on the vindication of Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's much-derided 50-State Strategy, which is largely about reaching out to the nation's more religious voters in the red ...

posted 2:01:06pm Nov. 06, 2008 | read full post »

A Post-Election Chat with Ralph Reed
Amid today's talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive ...

posted 3:09:07pm Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »

More Innacurate Faith Storylines From the Media
God-o-Meter is struck by the number of faith-based storylines the news media appear to have gotten dead wrong this year. One was the line that Obama was poised to make big gains among white votes, especially evangelicals, who were undergoing a ...

posted 11:53:20am Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.