We’re accustomed by now to hearing Republican candidates slam “liberal” outsiders like gays, unions and women who choose to get abortions, populations that have been targeted by the party’s hateful rhetoric for decades. This weekend, however, showed once again that the GOP sometimes takes aim at itself, too.
I’m talking, of course, about remarks from Rick Perry’s latest endorser, Robert Jeffress. The senior pastor at Dallas’ First Baptist Church, Jeffress introduced preferred candidate Rick Perry at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. But rather than simply extolling Perry, Jeffress used his speech to slam the candidate’s main rival, Mitt Romney, and his religion, Mormonism.
“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” he told the crowd. “Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
Jeffress isn’t alone in harboring such hateful feelings. About 20% of Republican voters say that Mormonism should disqualify a candidate, according to a Public Policy Polling survey linked at Talking Points Memo.
More tellingly, a Gallup poll showed 31% of white evangelicals, the party’s largest and most powerful voting bloc, say they won’t vote for a Mormon. Over all, 22% of the entire population says the same.
Perry’s campaign team was forced, for political reasons, to distance their candidate from Jeffress’ inflammatory comments. “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult. He is not in the business of judging people. That’s God’s job,” said a Perry campaign spokesman. The team did not, it’s worth noting, denounce Jeffress or kick him to the curb.
(Perry himself was only slightly more explicit, telling the ‘Des Moines Register,’ “I don’t think the Mormon Church is a cult… People who endorse me or people who work for me, I respect their endorsement and their work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I endorse all of their statements.”)
The other candidates in the field were even less generous in their condemnations, or lack thereof.
Michele Bachmann, for example, tried to dodge the question during an appearance on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ yesterday. This is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned,” she said. “We have religious tolerance in this country and we understand that people have different views on their faith and I have a very sincerely held believe on faith and I think we just leave it at that.”
Herman Cain too skipped over the issue. “I am not running for theologian in chief,” explained the business man. “I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that. I’m not getting into that.” Cain’s comment reveals his true beliefs, though: Mormonism and Christianity are mutually exclusive.
Bachmann and Cain are, at best, fearful of alienating evangelical voters. At worst, they’re just as bigoted as Jeffress and also distrust Mormons, 65% of whom say they’re solidly Republican. Nevermind that the Mormon church remains at the forefront of one of the party’s biggest crusades, banning gay marriage; they’re simply not “traditional” enough for the GOP they faithfully endorse.
In fact, the only person in this whole drama who actually took the moral high ground is none other than Mitt Romney. Speaking at the Summit this weekend, he insisted, “Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart or changed a single mind.”
He was not, however, talking about Jeffress, but about one of the event’s organizers, hateful bigot Bryan Fischer, the head of the American Family Association who has repeatedly used his pulpit to attack the Mormon faith.
But it’s not just Mormon Republicans who are ostracized from the cliquey GOP. Though significantly smaller and less powerful, the gay group GOProud has also been on the receiving end of the Republican Party’s throbbing ire: they have been excommunicated from another right-wing gathering, the Conservative Political Action Conference, because the more entrenched GOP forces object to their same-sex love.
Hispanics, a group that could have been wooed into a solid GOP bloc, are also left out. Thirty-five percent of Hispanics voted for George W. Bush in 2000; 44% backed him in 2004. That number fell in 2008, when only 31% voted for that year’s Republican candidate, John McCain.
The acceleration of anti-immigrant policies, many of which target Hispanic Americans just as much as they do illegal aliens, guarantees that Hispanics, the fastest growing population in the United States, will continue moving away from a Republican Party that vilifies them, or the idea of them.
The same could be said about Muslim voters: 78% of Muslim voters helped Bush win in 2000. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan decimated that support in 2004, and ongoing Islamophobia, like anti-immigrant sentiment, will exacerbate said decline. Only two percent of Muslim voters backed McCain in 2008, according to the Council on American-Islam Relations.
The modern Republican Party built itself up in the late 1960s, when they began manipulating and capitalizing on racist fears via their “Southern Strategy.” The acrimony and division they cultivated helped, in part, lay the groundwork for the rise of the decidedly white “moral majority” that currently holds massive amounts of power and influence in the Republican ranks. Fear and loathing have become part and parcel of the party’s overall platform.
As the nation’s demographics, and people’s attitudes, change, the party that celebrates discrimination and blasts its ideological allies for their religious beliefs, as Jeffress did, will find itself relegated to history’s proverbial dustbin, so reduced in numbers and scope that one day it will be, quite accurately, described as a “cult.”