An odd thing happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last month. That, in
itself, is not that odd but this event provides great insight into how
American politics can work.
“I wouldn’t invite just anybody to my church,” announced Tony Perkins, described as “one of America’s most influential evangelical Christian leaders”, but judging by that comment, not very well versed in irony, or maybe even Christianity.
But I digress. Perkins was hosting a meeting between pastors and Republican candidate Rick Santorum, the Catholic Christian conservative who wants to take his crusade (and it is a crusade) all the way to the White House.
Santorum spoke to the small meeting of about 24 local Louisiana Christian leaders and let everyone in on one of his campaign secrets: “If this is about management of the economy we are going to lose. What we need to do in this country is to rebuild that culture of life and rebuild that culture of marriage and families.”
The economy doesn’t matter? With Santorum spouting that attitude, maybe President Obama can take a vacation. But Santorum’s speech hit the mark where it mattered – among many Christian voters.
Mitt Romney may be poised to win the Republican nomination but the real winner here will be Rick Santorum and the Religious right. Romney is indeed very religious but his thoughts are with the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons.
Romney’s beliefs are founded in Christianity but also hinge on the idea that a man in upstate New York found some form of scripture under a rock in the early 19th Century and moved to Utah. This is a bit like the prophet Mohammed in 622 but white and American. But who are we to argue?
Actually, for many Republican voters, Romney is a member of a cult and not representative of Christian values at all. Rick Santorum, a Catholic fundamentalist, best embodies their views. It is these voters, extreme social conservatives, who have invigorated Santorum’s campaign at the polls and with cash donations to keep his campaign alive.
Santorum’s campaign is truly a grassroots collection of social conservatives, religious leaders, anti-abortion activists, anti-gay marriage activists, and rich Christian businessmen with money to donate to a cause they are invested in.
They are motivated. A meeting of Christian leaders in support of Santorum netted his campaign $1.78 million in funding donations. Not as much as Romney can raise from billionaire buddies but that’s a lot of money to do God’s work.
It’s important to recognise, too, that most Christian fundamentalists rallying behind Catholic Santorum are Protestant. This is an arranged marriage. In 2012, Santorum is as close to God as they can get. After all, many evangelicals remain unconvinced President Obama is a Christian.
“I just have to assume that he is,” an unconvinced Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical leader Billy Graham, said in February.
“[Santorum’s] values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. I think he’s a man of faith.”
Should the form guide play out as expected and Romney takes the nomination, Santorum won’t have lost. What he has done is build a broad and powerful Christian conservative base of which he sits atop.
Driven by dogma, he can be a powerful national leader from outside the White House. Especially as he has long thought the devil is taking control of the country.