Friday, March 1, 2013

Republicans need to divorce from religious right

By Brian Bruns, Columnist
The Republican Party is in trouble. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the party a verbal spanking last Thursday at the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting.

Jindal advised Republicans to stop treating voters like demographics and more like individuals. He reminded them skin color is not an accurate predictor of how someone will vote. Jindal even took time to blast Obama’s economic policies.

While Jindal is saying all the right things to distinguish himself as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, tough talk and fresh perspective will not be enough to win his party’s nomination.

Jindal is missing or intentionally leaving out one important factor that has determined the winner of almost every Republican primary since 1980. A candidate must win over the religious conservative base to be nominated.

A 2012 Gallup poll showed only 48 percent of Republican voters would be willing to nominate an Atheist and only 47 percent willing to nominate a Muslim. According to those numbers, non-Christian candidates vying for the GOP nomination would find winning it practically impossible.

Republicans who emerge from the messy primary process often seem too extreme in the religion department for many independent Americans to vote for them. By the time they reach the light of the general election, they’ve been questioned about where they stand on abortion or equal marriage, what god they believe in and what churches they’ve attended.

Richard Finger, Forbes online contributor, said in a post-2012 election interview, "the definition of conservative has shifted from running a responsible government with a balanced budget to how many days a week you punched your attendance ticket at church."

Finger also said Republicans could gain more voters if they would adopt a policy of tolerance and stop alienating potential conservatives on issues of morality such as abortion or same-sex marriage.

I agree with Finger.

If the Republican Party wants to win elections consistently in the future, it needs to shake off the image of intolerance by attempting to reverse the coupling it has with religious conservatism.

This is no easy task.

The Republican Party cannot simply ignore a group as politically active as the Christian conservatives.

Nor can Republicans allow their party, and by extension their candidates, to be defined as intolerant of something like same-sex marriage as states across the country are passing same-sex marriage laws in record numbers.

There would certainly be tremendous backlash from Christian conservatives if the Republican Party suddenly became tolerant on issues that fundamental Christianity has largely been intolerant of. There is no telling what its own members would do if such a policy was implemented.

There are no easy answers for how the Republican Party can take control of its own destiny.

As long as it keeps setting itself up as the party of fundamental Christian morals, it will immediately alienate a large block of voters who would otherwise support the Republican Party’s political agenda.

Brian Bruns is a father, a husband and a U.S. Army veteran. Sarcasm, wit and a good cup of coffee are all keys to his success. He can usually be spotted Thursday night working for Mast TV’s News @Nine or Friday nights hosting Lutes, Listen Up! on LASR.