Republicans have good odds of winning the White House in 2016, if one considers statistics of similar past elections. Voters tend to turn to the opposite party of a two-term president during the next election cycle. Yet, the GOP still does not appear to have grasped the fact that this presidential election is theirs to lose if the party continues to tread the same path it did in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Republicans’ biggest mistake is ignoring evangelical conservatives, and the party cannot afford to make that mistake again.
There is no doubt establishment Republicans, those who control the power of the party, understand there are a number of evangelical conservative Christians within the party. A 2012 survey indicates this group makes up half the party. There is also no doubt what provokes this GOP faction’s political interests; strong defense, guns, pro-life causes, traditional marriage and fiscal responsibility are top issues. What Republican forces fail to comprehend is that this group so firmly believes in those issues, they will show no interest in a candidate who does not light their fire.
That is, in essence what happened in 2008 and 2012. There was no real serious base interest in Sen. John McCain’s bid for the White House and the party was not energized until Sara Palin joined McCain as a running mate. While the mainstream media made fun of Palin, the party’s conservative base loved her and that showed in the rallies. In 2012, every one of the Republican contenders became a star for a day except for the GOP establishment candidate Mitt Romney. One by one, as the conservative candidates stepped out of the race, the base party begrudgingly supported Romney in hopes of defeating sitting President Barack Obama. While the overall voter turnout of 57.5 percent in 2012 was higher than any election in this millennium, Romney earned less Republican votes than McCain or former president George W. Bush. Romney got 57 million votes compared to McCain’s 59.9 million and Bush’s 60 million. Analysts speculate Republicans just stayed home on election night rather than vote.
Currently, the GOP is eying former Gov. Jeb Bush as a possible contender for 2016. The demographics for another Bush run is ripe for a win and the Bush name is a brand all its own that has worked to put two others in the Oval Office. However, this time may be different because Jeb Bush has not taken a strong stand on conservative issues. Conservatives are following former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Dr. Ben Carson. Those candidates are making waves in polling and are getting some media attention, but are receiving virtually no support from the Republican establishment.
Republicans have notoriously ignored evangelical conservatives because the establishment has long thought that faction of the party had nowhere to go. It is a two-party system after all, and the Democrats are not a viable option because of its leftist stance on social issues. After the 2012 loss, an election which Republicans were assured by pollsters to win, the party started courting evangelicals by hiring former South Carolina party chairman Chad Connelly in 2013. Connelly’s job is to woo the Christian base back into the big tent. Connelly, a Baptist, was labeled as a full-time outreach director to faith-based groups.
The move will be only a symbolic one if the GOP doesn’t follow up with supporting a strong, conservative candidate. Quite simply, the evangelical base thinks those who waiver on beliefs regarding core value issues will not be a strong, respected president. A look at the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan proves that. President Jimmy Carter, an avowed Christian, lost dramatically to Reagan largely because of Reagan’s stance on defense and all things deemed American. Republicans need to grasp the fundamental idea that evangelical Christians will not be ignored, and that the GOP cannot afford a big public relations mistake that encourages conservatives to stay home in 2016.
Opinion by Melody Dareing