The main item of business that day was what to do with Santorum's colleague, the pesky pro-choice Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.). Specter held a crucial position as chair of the Judiciary Committee and had recently outraged this group by telling the press that he would apply "no litmus test" to judicial nominees. Now they wanted him gone, ousted, stripped of power. When, in the midst of escalating rhetoric, Brinson spoke up to suggest that perhaps punishing Specter wasn't the wisest decision, the idea wasn't well received. "That," he says, "was my first inkling that I wasn't one of them." If being a player in this world meant calling for the heads of moderate Republicans and ginning up fake controversies like a supposed "war on Christmas," Brinson wasn't terribly interested.
 
Not long after, while Brinson was still turning the taste of disillusionment around in his mouth, a Democrat called from Washington. Thinking that "maybe it wouldn't be so bad to talk to these Democratic people," Brinson agreed to come to Washington to sit down with some congressional Democrats. In quick succession, the lifelong Republican found himself meeting with advisers to the incoming Democratic leaders-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)-field directors at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and aides to Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee.
 
What they found is that their interests overlapped: The Democrats wanted to reach out to evangelicals, and Brinson wanted to connect with politicians who could deliver on a broader array of evangelical concerns, like protecting programs to help the poor, supporting public education, and expanding health care. It had seemed natural for him to start by pressing his own party to take up those concerns, but Democrats appeared to be more willing partners. They even found common ground on abortion when Brinson, who is very pro-life, explained that he was more interested in lowering abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies than in using the issue to score political points.
 
Those Democrats who had initially been wary about working with a conservative evangelical Republican from Alabama found Brinson convincing. They also realized that conservatives had done them an enormous favor. "Listening to him talk," one of them told me, "I thought, these guys bitch-slapped him, and he's willing to play ball."
 
At about this time, with Bush just entering his second term, his support among evangelicals began to slip. The Abramoff scandal hadn't helped, with its manipulation of Christian Right leaders to support gambling interests and email messages referring to evangelicals as "wackos." But the real problem was moderate evangelicals. Many of them soured on Bush for the reasons that lowered his approval ratings across the board: an unpopular Social Security plan, a lack of progress in Iraq, and the failed response to Hurricane Katrina.
The right-of-center magazine Christianity Today ran an editorial declaring that "single-issue politics is neither necessary nor wise." One-third of the students and faculty at Calvin College in the heart of conservative western Michigan signed a full-page ad protesting Bush's Iraq policy when he gave a commencement address there. Many moderates were dismayed when the old guard refused to join protests against federal budget cuts that fall disproportionately on the poor in favor of what James Dobson called "pro-family tax cuts." These evangelicals had supported Bush despite often disagreeing with his specific positions. But in 2005, according to an Associated Press poll, the percentage of them who believed the country was headed in the right direction dropped by 30 points.
 
Big Business v. Believers
 
While Brinson has been working with Democrats in Alabama on the Bible literacy bill, other evangelicals are having their own road to Damascus moments. One of them is Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and a frequent subject of profiles on "kinder, gentler" evangelicals in outlets like Newsweek and USA Today. Cizik has spent years trying to get evangelicals invested in what he calls "creation care," the idea that God gave them responsibility for tending to the earth. His hope has been that a Republican administration would be more likely to pay attention to lobbying from its own base on issues like carbon dioxide emissions than from liberal environmentalists.
 
In early January, I talked to Cizik about his efforts to get evangelicals to take a stand on climate change, a move that would place considerable political pressure on the administration to take the problem seriously. The NAE represents 52 denominations with 45,000 churches and 30 million members across the country-getting them all to agree on something is no easy task, but Cizik had made impressive strides and was optimistic. Convinced that his only course of action was to work with Republicans, he spent an hour patiently explaining why evangelicals were better off trying to change Republican attitudes about the environment rather than working with Democrats who already embraced his position. Not able to help myself, I argued back. It's not as if the Bush administration doesn't support environmental policies because they hate trees. It's because they have powerful business supporters who don't like regulation. Still, Cizik held firm, insisting that evangelicals had to change "our own party."
 
A month later, I ran into Cizik at the National Prayer Breakfast. That morning, he had opened up his Washington Post to find an article based on a letter to his boss from the old guard-Dobson, Colson, Wildmon, and the rest-suggesting, in the way that Tony Soprano makes suggestions, that the NAE back off its plan to take a public position on global warming. "Bible-believing evangelicals," the letter-writers argued, "disagree about the cause, severity, and solutions to the global warming issue." The leaked letter was a blatant attempt to torpedo Cizik's efforts, and it had worked. The NAE would take no stand on climate change.
 
There was no doubt that the administration had prevailed on the more pliable figures of the Christian Right to whack one of their own. Cizik was beside himself. It was hard to resist the "I told you so" moment, and I didn't. But when I suggested to him that this was an example of the way that business seemed to win out most of the time when religious and business interests came into conflict in GOP politics, he stopped me. "Not most of the time," he corrected. "Every time. Every single time." And he's no longer sure that can change. "Maybe not with this administration.... We need to stop putting all of our eggs in one basket--that's just not good politics."
 

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