As Republican presidential hopefuls begin the long process of trying to win their party’s nomination for the presidency, the early stages of the campaign have shown that the Christian right still exerts a strong influence on the GOP, a political expert says.
Daniel Williams, professor of history at the University of West Georgia, says that early issues that have arisen in the campaign are some of the key causes championed by the Christian right, including abortion, gay marriage and religion in politics.
For instance, this week’s debate in New Hampshire gave the hopefuls a chance to voice their views on those issues, among others, but Williams noted that there wasn’t much divergence.
“All of the candidates were making very identical answers on all of those issues,” he said. “These are issues that the Christian right are most concerned with.”
Williams, author of the recent book, “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right,” believes that the relationship between religious conservatives and the GOP remains strong. The party’s candidates are mindful of that, he said.
“If you want to become a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, you have to have that position,” Williams said, adding that those who alienate the Christian right do not usually get the party’s nod. There have been some GOP candidates who did not enjoy initial support among religious conservatives, but usually they have had to modify their views or choose a running mate with stronger Christian right ties, Williams said.
He also points out that a key issue for the Christian right is who the next president would be likely to nominate for the Supreme Court.
“The Christian right needs one more justice to make headway with their agenda. All of the candidates are promising to appoint a justice who is aligned with the Christian right—one who will restrict abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Williams.
While religious conservatives retain a strong connection with the GOP, it will be important to watch how the party's presidential candidate will balance that relationship with the need to appeal to the broader electorate.