A series of sex-related scandals over the last few years has undercut the party's assertions of moral authority and, worse, may serve to reinforce the doubts that many evangelical voters have traditionally harbored about the unholiness of the political realm.Republicans have been successful reaching out to religious voters, not just with their focus on conservative social issues but "by promoting an image of greater virtue and more godliness." With the confessions of Sanford, Ensign, Larry Craig, and Mark Foley, among others, however, conservative evangelicals feel betrayed:
"Episode after episode like this makes it relatively difficult for Republicans to say with a straight face that they're a party that stands on moral issues that evangelicals care about," said Dale Kuehne, an associate political science professor at Saint Anselm College and a pastor in Nashua, N.H. "You look at Mark Sanford and Larry Craig and say, 'Is there anyone we can trust?' "But, obviously, this does not mean that Democrats will see a windfall of disaffected voters:
A sudden and overwhelming shift of Christian conservatives from the GOP to the more secular-minded Democratic Party appears unlikely. As Laura Olson, an expert on religion and politics at South Carolina's Clemson University, put it: "The Republican Party is still going to be, at a minimum, the lesser of two evils."One Republican congressman offers his thoughts on how the party can regain the trust of voters:
But in politics, subtraction can be just as important as addition. If large numbers of evangelicals were to stay home on election day, or channel their activism into outlets other than politics, the GOP could suffer grave consequences; over the last generation, devout churchgoer voters have become an increasingly vital part of the shrinking Republican base.
"We really do need to cut loose this stinkpot of self-righteousness," said Bob Inglis, a GOP congressman from South Carolina who once served alongside Sanford on Capitol Hill. "I see a real opportunity for a more accurate presentation of the Gospel in presenting fact rather than the fiction . . . that we're paragons of virtue."However you want to theologically intimate human sinfulness, the recognition of our flawed and broken natures necessitates Inglis' call for humility. We inevitably fall, and as such, the trumpeting of moral superiority becomes a double-edged sword - the negative effects, in light of scandals, being an increased intensity of public anger, charges of hypocrisy, and legitimate threats of voter abandonment.
I wonder, however, contrary to the LA Times, how much Republicans have to worry about the latter effect. The one factor providing potential cover? The political realtime between now and the next election cycle. An eternity. In the end, I think, voters will care much more about the economy, jobs, threats of religious extremism, and other unforseen circumstances. And, while a politician's funny-business is newsworthy, this is how it should be.