Is it too early to talk about 2016?
Not if you are Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt. They have defined a list of 11 Republican POTUS possibles in no particular order:
- Ted Cruz
- Rand Paul
- Marco Rubio
- John Thune
- Scott Walker
- John Kasich
- Chris Christie
- Rick Perry
- Paul Ryan
- Bobby Jindal
- Rick Synder
That looks like a reasonable list to me. By the time we get there some may have decided to not to run, and a few purely-in-it-for-the-publicity types may have decided to join the fray, but in terms of who really matters, that seems like a list one can work with.
So. if you agree with our analysis of what happened in 2012, the key question confronting us when trying to decide who of these people to back in 2016 is who will treat Evangelicals like a swing vote and who will treat it like a spoiler vote? Or are they something new altogether? In 2008, Evangelicals played spoiler for Mitt Romney so, reasonably, in 2012 that is how he treated them. They responded in 2012 by staying home and spoiling in the general, not merely the primary, thus making themselves, functionally, the swing vote. Of course, traditional wisdom holds that you cater to the swing vote, relying on your base to come along naturally – but candidates from Pat Robertson all the way to Mike Huckabee have shown that treating Evangelicals that way is a losing strategy. It is possible we have a very different reality on our hands.
Some are saying that evangelical political involvement is at an end – or very near it. Some disagree. Much of the debate here hinges on how you define “Evangelical.” This last link comes from leading evangelical thinker Scot McKnight. In the post linked he identifies four “beating hearts” of Evangelicalism. Some are defined in purely theological terms, but the last is very important for this situation:
The rise of the Religious Right formed a new heart beat: Fundamentalism withdrew from culture and society while the Religious Right reentered the public sector with vigor and with strong theories of how America should be run.
Much confusion exists amongst reporters, pundits and political observers about the difference between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. The left and its media allies generally ignore the difference thus leaving Fundalmentalism as a brush with which all those of social conservative bent can be painted and therefore ignored.
What really seems to be happening is that the left is pushing the issue bar to a place where Evangelicals are starting to look and act like Fundamentalists. When the Religious Right appeared abortion and to a limited extent rampant divorce were the issues. The issues in front of us today – same sex marriage, a total breakdown of family, euthanasia – are issues that the Religious Right on its founding could take for granted.
This brings us back to McKnight and his four “beating hearts.” Let’s examine two others:
1. Conversionism: evangelicals believe a person must be born again to be a Christian and that means they have made a personal decision at some time.
2. Activism: this isn’t so much social activism as it is evangelistic and missional activism.
These are things that have traditionally separated Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists, by definition, hid behind their walls and decried the state of the world. Evangelicals, by definition, reached out and tried to fix things – on a spiritual, social, and political level.
Which brings me back to the Rove/Hewitt list.
The POTUS possible I am looking for is the one that can reinvigorate Evangelical political activism while reminding them of their roots in spiritual and social activism and set them free to work hard on all three levels. As I read through the list now, my mind divides them up into “appeals” and “doesn’t appeal” to Evangelicals. What I am looking for is someone that leads Evangelicals. Some say Evangelicals cannot be led; I disagree. It just takes a good leader.
Somehow, I have an inkling that Mormons are looking for much the same thing.
And so we have laid a challenge at the feet of the list of eleven above. Who will pick it up?