Republican Presidential Candidates Pave A Path To Defeat By Courting Extremist Conservatives

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On Friday November 7th, three of the Republican presidential candidates appeared at a National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. The event was hosted by controversial pastor Kevin Swanson, a hatemonger who openly advocates the death penalty for gays, because according to his interpretation of the Bible, homosexuals are to be executed. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee attended the event.

While Cruz, Jindal and Huckabee did not themselves say they approved of murdering gay people for the “sin of homosexuality”, they did nothing to distance themselves from Swanson’s inflammatory comments. All three of them are battling for the support of white evangelical Christian voters in the Republican caucuses and primaries.

Their support for Swanson demonstrates that Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee are three of the weakest, most spineless candidates to ever run for the presidency. They are too timid to say killing gay people is not acceptable, because, by God, they want hateful white evangelical Christian bigots to vote for them in Iowa, South Carolina and a bunch of other states that vote early on the Republican calendar.

The three men are clear profiles in cowardice. However, from a strictly Machiavellian point of view, they may be doing exactly what they need to do, in order to perform well in the early contests. An analysis by Geoffrey Skelley, at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball site, explains why pandering to White fundamentalists might be smart politics. White evangelicals dominate the early Republican calendar.

In fact, just under 64 percent of the Republican delegates chosen on or before March 8th, will come from states where the majority of GOP voters identify as white evangelical Christians. Because of their disproportionate influence in early states like Iowa, South Carolina, and seven Southern states that vote on March 1st in the “SEC primary”, white born-again Christians could have a tremendous say in which candidates remain viable by mid-March.

This dynamic means that candidates like Huckabee, Jindal and Cruz, who attended Swanson’s gay bashing event, will have every incentive to push a theocratic agenda, in the hopes of harvesting votes. Although retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, did not attend the National Religious Liberties Conference, they too will try to pander to right-wing fundamentalists by highlighting their socially regressive policies. Even Donald Trump is determined to pander to the religious right, as evidenced by him asserting that when he becomes president everybody will be saying “Merry Christmas”.

Not all white evangelicals are homophobic bigots or cultural reactionaries. However, enough of them are, so that Republican politicians have no reason to fear they will be punished at the polls for catering to religious extremists on the fundamentalist fringe. The GOP base in many of the early contests is overrun with white Christian fundamentalists, and Republicans trying to scratch and claw their way into the White House seem to think challenging religious bigots over their self-righteous hatred towards others is not smart politics. So rather than standing on principle for loving one’s neighbors and not judging others, the GOP politicians will take photo-ops with pastors who support executing homosexuals, because it just might earn them some votes.