A new study puts a face -- and a particularly ugly one at that -- on what was been increasingly obvious for many years: Christian conservatives, the folks who use their God like a cudgel to bludgeon we heathens with their neanderthal social agenda, exert an inordinate influence on the Republican Party even if their numbers are relatively small and their agenda is outside the electoral mainstream.
This perversity is on display in that quadrennial scrum known as the Republican presidential primary as otherwise mostly sane presidential wannabes suck up to Christian conservatives to win their favor in primaries in states with outsized blocs of holier-than-thou voters because they can be easily motivated to turn out to vote, especially in the Deep South where they predominate, only to inch away from them and back toward the political center as the nominating convention rolls around. (Exhibit A in this regard is the shameless Paul Ryan, who has done a 180-degree turn on abortion to appeal to Christianist primary voters.)
And then, with the fall campaign underway, these wannabes abandon Christianists altogether. George W. Bush did it in 2000 and 2004, John McCain in 2008 , and Mitt Romney took his turn in 2012, while the hapless eventual 2016 nominee will do it again on the way to likely slaughter under Hillary Clinton's sword.
The outsized influence that censorious Christian conservatives have on the GOP -- and by extension the national debate -- is starkly obvious in data compiled for the new American Values Atlas from 50,000 interviews conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The institute quizzed people on the issues of same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration, among others, and analyzed the responses based on their religious faiths.
Not surprisingly, white evangelical Protestants, who make up 18 percent of all Americans but an outsized 36 percent of Republicans, were the most conservative. But if you striped away this group, the results were starkly different.
Among all Republicans, 35 percent favored the legalization of gay marriage, while 58 percent opposed it. But without white evangelicals the spread is 45 percent to 47 percent, a heck of a lot closer to Americans in general, although you wouldn't know that given the way GOP congressional leaders suck up to white evangelicals.
On abortion, only 39 percent of all Republicans said that it should be legal, while 58 percent said that it should not be. Subtract those white evangelicals and the spread is 48 percent to 49 percent, again closer to Americans in general.
On immigration, the religious group in which the fewest people (36 percent) said that immigrants "strengthen" the country were . . . you, guessed it, white evangelicals. Among all Americans, the spread was 55 percent "strengthen" and 36 percent "burden."
We live in a golden age of cowardice. People of all political stripes cower behind the flag in the name of an ersatz patriotism rather than defend true American values, and Democratic congressfolk cower when they should be defending their president and his signal accomplishments. But they pale in comparison to Republicans who cower in the presence of intolerant Christianist nut jobs whose intolerance would be right at home with radical Islam.