John McCain’s Campaign Manager Criticizes GOP for Being “Co-opted” By Religious Right April 19, 2009

John McCain’s Campaign Manager Criticizes GOP for Being “Co-opted” By Religious Right

One of the down sides of working on an election campaign is that you can’t always speak your mind until well after the election is over out of fear that it’ll hurt your chances of winning.

By the time you do, it’s too late, and we’re wondering where that person was before the election when we needed that voice to be heard.

Steve Schmidt, John McCain‘s campaign manager, is no exception. He’s now realizing what so many Obama supporters have known for a while: The Republican Party has become synonymous with the Christianist Party.

At least he’s coming out and saying it — to gay Republicans, no less:

… Schmidt painted a dire portrait of the state of the Republican Party, arguing that the GOP has largely been co-opted by its religious elements.

“If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party,” Schmidt declared. “And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party.”

… religious views should not inform the public policy positions of a political party because… when it is a religious party, many people who would otherwise be members of that party are excluded from it because of a religious belief system that may be different. And the Republican Party ought not to be that. It ought to be a coalition of people under a big tent.”

Earlier, in the question-and-answer session, Schmidt said he conveyed a similar message to Senator McCain, though he declined to elaborate on what kind of advice was given.

“My views were known inside the campaign on this,” he said.

If they were known, they were ignored. The selection of Sarah Palin only reinforced the power the Religious Right held over the GOP.

I have a lot of respect for politicians who can criticize their own party. Change has to come from within, and this is a nice start. Schmidt isn’t an elected official, though. Until a Republican member of Congress says that Schmidt is right and the party needs to change, I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to reach out to voters who don’t attend a Christian church or share Christian beliefs.

(Thanks to EndUnknown for the link!)

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  • It’s true. I used to be a conservative, but the party leaves very little room for people who believe in pro-choice. The GOP has left its roots of small government, but what has hurt them the most are their obstinate stands on homosexuals. Even Meghan McCain criticized the GOP for this. The GOP has much to offer if it cleans up its act and gets rid of it bully and terror mongering about terrorism and demeaning atheists and homosexuals. Sadly, I believe that those people who would do that are the majority or at least the leaders of the party. I was really happy to see Michael Steele elected to the chairman of the RNC but he seems to fold under pressure from the far right which is unfortunate as I saw him as reforming figure.

  • chancelikely

    Interestingly, other secular democracies have parties with “Christian” in the name of the party – the Christian Democrats in Germany, for example.

    If the Palinoid rump of the GOP rebranded itself as the Christian-American Family Alliance or something, I wouldn’t be especially surprised.

  • Eliza

    Meghan McCain spoke at the Log Cabin Republicans national convention last night, with plenty of criticism for the Republican party; story here (from HuffPost’s point of view). One quote:

    “We’ve seen how it has contributed to some serious problems in our nation and world,” McCain said, in an apparent reference to the government under GOP control. “Let me blunt, you can’t assume you’re electing the right leaders to handle all the problems facing our nation when you make your choice based on one issue. More and more people are finally getting that.”

    (Another sign that she’s a reasonable person: she and Ann Coulter don’t like each other.)

  • dfledermaus

    I think it’s worth quoting the late senator and 1964 GOP presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater on religion in politics:

    “However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”

    It’s too bad the rest of the GOP didn’t think like this or they wouldn’t be locked in a death-grip marriage with the religious right. The GOP is becoming increasing marginalized because the absolutist positions of it’s religious base leave little room for compromise. It’s a self-inflicted wound to their goal of being a “big tent” party.

  • dfledermaus, thank you for the quote. I had not heard that before and found it inspiring to read.

  • Miko

    I’d argue that the Republican Party has been defined by Christianity for quite some time. The change isn’t so much the party as the people: fifty years ago 82% of Americans said they thought that religion could solve public policy problems; today that number is 48%. The problem with the Republican Party isn’t that they’ve changed on religion (although it’s fair to say on some other issues they have) but that they haven’t changed on religion. (Source of statistic and other interesting info: )

  • Sam

    I was thinking of voting for McCain because I had thought that he was a moderate Republican. I knew that he was a man of faith but unlike a lot of others, he wasn’t too public about it. He didn’t really use religion as what defined him and his politics.

    Sadly he chose Sara Palin for his VP and it was that that sadly made me vote for someone else. It would have been nice to have a moderate republican in the White House but political pressure might ensure that never happens.

  • dfledermaus

    The problem with the Republican Party isn’t that they’ve changed on religion (although it’s fair to say on some other issues they have) but that they haven’t changed on religion.

    That’s an interesting perspective and one that bears looking into. I wish I’d thought of it.

    On another note, I’d like to say what a pleasure it is to be on a blog where so many people list sources to back up their assertions. It’s a great aid to keeping the debate rational and interesting.

    (and you’re welcome, Michael Russell)


  • dfledermaus

    I’d argue that the Republican Party has been defined by Christianity for quite some time. The change isn’t so much the party as the people

    Now that I’ve thought on it a bit, I don’t think this assessment is altogether fair or accurate. Both parties did and still do genuflect towards religion but there has been significant change in their religious demographics. Since the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the GOP was known for being the party of big business and old-line conservatism (the upper-crusty, main-line Protestant type rather than evangelical). The Democratic Party was pretty much the sole proprietor of the Christian evangelicals then (think Southern Democrats). This changed after the Democrats under JFK and LBJ started passing civil rights legislation. That’s when White Southern Democrats started jumping ship. The change was already well under way even before (though accelerated by) the “Reagan Revolution.”

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Unfortunately moderate republicans, if indeed, any still exist, are in a catch 22 situation. They cannot get elected without the republican base who are mostly the hardcore right wing evangelical christians, and they can’t win with their base since their base are so off putting that moderates vote for the other guy just to stop the wackos getting in.

    Hence John McCain, who for all his faults, and he has many, isn’t a wacko far right christian. But to get elected he needed to get the 30%ers on board and they didn’t like him because he wasn’t one of them. So he got Palin who the wachy right love. Unfortunately Palin was such a freakshow that moderates who might have voted for McCain (such as Jack, above) got driven off or voted for Obama just to stop Palin getting in.

    The republicans have now managed to get themselves into a position where they can’t win with their current supporters and they are having real problems convincing anyone else to vote for them, largely because of their current supporters.

    As a hardcore liberal and atheist, i find it really quite beautiful.

    The biggest down side that i can see is that the republicans drag american politics down with them in their death thros with more nonsense such as the teabagging parties. Only in the hard right will you see hundreds of poor people protesting that they are going to be paying less tax while the rich pay more.

  • sandra in nebraska

    I was a republican from 1979-2004. The religious reich is the reason I found myself moving farther and farther to the left of the political spectrum. My goodness, when the GOP fought tooth and nail to keep Teri Shaivo on a feeding tube for another 15 plus years, and fight tooth and nail to throw left over petrie dish embryos into the trash rather than using them to try and find cures for disease (even though they have no problem going around their “god” when he gives one of their sheep a barren womb), when they fight tooth and nail against legalized abortion and fight equally hard against birth control at the same time, there’s just no way I can vote for a republican again. They’ve let the inmates have control of the asylum….in other words, they’ve gone nuts. — Maybe they should just put James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh on the ticket next time and stop pussy-footing around with the political speak of freedom, patriotism and values..sheesh, they’re like a bunch of nazis or ku klux klan members pretending to be republicans.

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