The following is a post I put up at RedState that I probably should have put some more thought in to, but think I have encapsulated it fairly well.
“It is a lot easier to tear down the guy who is running as the super Christian than it is to out Christian him.”
The Tuesday defeat of Ralph Reed has, I think, been interpreted by a lot of people inside and outside the press as a defeat of a conservative by a moderate. Compound Reed’s loss with Kay Goodwin’s loss down in South Georgia — both of whom the Christian Coalition supported — and you have a rejection of evangelical conservative at the hands of the fiscal conservative/social liberal (read: moderate).
In the past couple of days I have heard more and more people say that this Georgia election signaled a change — it was going to transform the Republican party. The Christian zealots who controlled the party were going to be pushed out by the metropolitan, Atlanta Republicans who are more concerned with tax cuts and business issues than social conservative drudgery.
The pundits and prognosticators are wrong. There was no revolution, it was the same old, same old.
Ralph Reed and Kay Goodwin lost, not because they were the evangelical candidate, but because they were poseurs. This reminds me of a race I ran in 2002. My guy, on the advice of several (including Ralph Reed), ran as the Baptist minister whose primary income was from a publishing company that specialized in sunday school materials for Baptist Churches. We spent months working churches, home schoolers, and other evangelicals. In the end, the opponent found one piece of information that went to my guy’s credibility as an evangelical conservative, and blew him out of the water. Though the information was not quite accurate, the response was too late and too weak to do any good. It was not that the opponent’s base got out and voted, it’s that my guy’s supporters stayed home when presented with negative information about their preferred candidate.
And thus it is with Christian conservatives across the country and thus it was with Ralph Reed and Kay Goodwin. For some reason, there are always candidates who think that to run as a social conservative they have to play up to evangelicals on issues that only evangelicals care about. They rally the faithful and pack the churches. But in doing this they expose their achilles heel.
All an opponent has to do is cast reasonable doubt on the character of the evangelical candidate and that candidate’s base will stay home. You convince a strong Christian that his preferred candidate has serious character flaws and the Christian is not going to vote for a man shown to be of morally poor character. And that’s what happened in Georgia.
The Republicans saw pitiful turnout in the primary. I frankly do no believe it was so much that the Cagle supporters turned out as the Ralph Reed opponents turned out. And the Reed supporters? Most of them, good Christian men and women who vote with their faith first, had their faith shattered in the man they felt was one of their own. As Peggy Noonan wondered today,
Is he a Christian who went into politics, or a politician who went into Christianity?
Well, I think a lot of Reed supporters, after this election, would say he was a politician first and a Christian second.
Kay Goodwin had the same story. A hero to the politically active evangelical set, it came out that Goodwin had been bullying her way around the Georgia Capitol as a lobbyist and had delinquent tax issues. She proved herself of unfit character and the Christians who might have gotten her elected did not turn out.
At the end of the day, pundits, particularly those in Georgia, should drop the canard that moderates won and that Republicans will have low turnout in November. Neither is true. Conservatives beat both Ralph Reed and Kay Goodwin. Evangelicals who told Ralph Reed they would vote for him just stayed home, instead of breaking their word and voting for the other guy. But they’ll be there in November.
The moral of all of this for an evangelical running for office is to run as a conservative, not an evangelical. Talk about conservative issues and let your values shine through. Be humble and don’t make your values the issue. After all, in a race of multiple conservatives, it is a lot easier to tear down the guy who is running as the super Christian than it is to out Christian him.