I ran into Ralph at a conference last week after not seeing him for a long time. He agreed to a quick interview:
Should we just hand the keys to whichever Democrat wins the nomination? It sure seems like the Republicans are hosed.
Not according to the polling data. The most recent Gallup poll shows Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani within two points. Other polls show the race within the margin of error. My sense is that 2008 will not be that much different than 2000 and 2004. It will be hard-fought, very competitive, and extremely close, probably coming down to one or two states.
What do you make of the resurgence of the so-called ‘religious left’? It seems like the Democrats are more active talking about their faith than the Republicans are.
I have a healthy skepticism about the religious left. First of all, it is not really new. Religious liberals have always been with us. The civil rights movement was birthed in the church, the Berrigan brothers and other Catholic clergy protested the Vietnam War, Caesar Chavez broke his hunger strike during a protest by the United Farm Workers by taking communion, and the National Council of Churches has advocated liberal positions from the pulpits of mainline churches for decades.
Polling shows support for the religious left at around 7 percent of the electorate, or about one-third the percentage of religious conservatives. Time will tell how much a difference they will make. I don’t agree that Democrats are more active in talking about their faith than Republicans. If you watch the debates and look at the excellent coverage by David Brody of CBN News and other outlets, Republican candidates are talking openly and quite comfortably about their faith. Republicans are talking about protecting the sanctity of marriage, creating a culture of life, appointing strict constructionist judges to the federal bench, and winning the war on terrorism. Leading Democratic presidential candidates favor repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, oppose the ban on partial birth abortion, and propose raising taxes and the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, which would give terrorists a safe haven and create chaos in the region. That message is not going to resonate with most people of faith.
Do you think the Dobson threat of a third party is going to split the Republican vote?
No. And just for the sake of accuracy, Dr. Dobson set the record straight in a recent New York Times op ed piece, stating there is no consensus to support such a third party effort among religious conservatives.
Do you think an evangelical Christian should have problems voting for Rudy Giuliani given his liberal social policy positions?
Rather than particularize that answer to Rudy Giuliani, let me say as a general proposition that those are prudential judgments based on the individual candidate—and their opponent. In 1992, the pro-family community supported Paul Coverdell, who was pro-choice, for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. Until his untimely death in 2000, Paul voted
consistently pro-life, helped defeat the Clinton health care plan, and became one of the most respected conservatives in the U.S. Senate.
There are circumstances when an 80 percent friend is not a 20 percent enemy. We will have to await the outcome of the dialogue between Mayor Giuliani and the faith community and voting in some early primaries to know the answer with regard to this race. Religious conservatives should stand on principle but also recognize that a political party is not a church. If they do so, they will be the most effective voting bloc in the nation.
What is the future of the religious conservative movement?
I think it has never been brighter. From the success of best-selling books like Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” to films like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” to exploding enrollment at evangelical colleges like Liberty University and Regent University, the pro-family movement has never been stronger in my lifetime. My sense is that a rising, new generation of leaders is also prepared to step forward and make a positive difference. The Southern Baptist Convention, the leading conservative evangelical denomination, has never been more vibrant in terms of church membership, missions, and programs. Polling continues to show that this constituency is arguably the largest and most dynamic single voting group in the electorate. Either political party will ignore them and the issues that motivate them at their own peril.