A private gathering of 150 unnamed religious activists tried to throw the South Carolina evangelical vote to Santorum. That gathering was held at the ranch of a Southern Baptist Convention conservative takeover heavyweight – retired Texas Judge Paul Pressler. As Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy said on the Jan. 21 broadcast, it had all the hallmarks of Pressler’s manipulations of the SBC:
The eventual victors touted the movement as the “conservative resurgence” and claim that it rescued the nation’s second-largest faith group from liberalism and decline. Gaddy, who was active in SBC leadership until the 1980s, said he called it “political fundamentalism,” which he defined as “a manipulation of theological issues and church loyalty to advance purposes latched on to interests in politics, money and power.”
The politics of religion still prevailed in South Carolina, albeit without being bent to Pressler’s will by handing the primary to Rick Santorum.
Mark Silk found that the evangelicals instead chose Catholic Newt Gingrich as their alternative to Mormon Mitt Romney:
The Mormon Gap killed Mitt Romney. Defined as the percentage-point difference between the evangelical and the non-evangelical vote for a given Mormon candidate in a Republican primary, it turned out to be 16 points; i.e. Romney won 38 percent of non-evangelicals but only 22 percent of evangelicals. By contrast, Newt Gingrich won 44 percent of evangelicals, as opposed to only 33 percent of non-evangelicals.
New York University Professor Jay Rosen parses Republican views as reality vs reality-denial. Similarly, an irrational anti-Mormon religious reflex may be seen as having had a determining effect in South Carolina. It may do so again in Florida.
Newt Gingrich is on a spiritual journey back to power in the Republican Party and perhaps a run for president.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writes about Gingrich’s conversion Catholicism, noting that it “says much about the transformation of the Republican Party that even Newt Gingrich is now carrying the cross.” Milbank says that even though Gingrich has never been close to the religion right, former speaker “is calculating that everything will get easier for him politically as a religious conservative.”
“But as his presidential aspirations swelled in recent years, Gingrich took the road to Damascus. He went on James Dobson‘s radio show to talk about his adultery. He spoke at Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University. He appeared on GodTV. He converted to Catholicism. He wrote a book, “Rediscovering God in America,” and produced two related films. He’s at work on a documentary about Pope John Paul II‘s role in defeating communism.”
Matt Bai looked at Gingrich’s resurgence in New York Times Magazine.
Bai describes a Republican retreat for congressmen in Virginia earlier this year, where Gingrich was the keynote speaker. Gingrich told inspiring stories from history and sports and even lightheartedly referred to himself as Moses, saying he’d help the GOP cross the Red Sea again only if it stayed on the other side.
Bai notes that Gingrich has “gone to great lengths to placate Christian conservatives.”
“The family-values crowd has never completely embraced Newt, probably because he has been married three times, most recently to a former Hill staff member, Callista Bisek. In 2006, though, Gingrich wrote a book called “Rediscovering God in America” — part of a new canon of work he has done reaffirming the role of religion in public life.”
Gingrich told the conference attendees that the nation’s “first great challenge is spiritual.”
“This is a country in hunger for another Great Awakening, a wave of belief which has again and again swept this country and fundamentally changed us.”
Gingrich is positioning himself to ride that wave.