Republican Elites and Christian Conservatives

The GOP leadership scorns its base… again

Conservatives were trounced in another race with national implications, this time in Wisconsin. It’s the first time that a liberal majority has sat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court bench since 2008. The race became a national bell-weather and the most expensive State Supreme Court race in national history. An astronomical $42 million was spent on the race, tripling all previous spending records. 

Republicans, as is usual at this point, were outspent by $6 million. Democrat Janet Protasiewicz, a former Circuit Court Judge in Milwaukee, trounced Former Republican Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. Dan Kelly was seeking to return to the Wisconsin Bench after losing his seat in 2020.  With 95% of the vote counted, the Democrats tallied 55.5% and the Republicans 44.5%. 

National Republicans immediately descended into a war of words, directing blame at various factions of the party. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a veiled shot at Donald Trump: “What I see around the country with Republicans is, they’ve started to develop a culture of losing. . . . We saw it in Wisconsin with this Supreme Court race.” Former President Trump said that Kelly’s refusal of his endorsement cost him the race.

Likely, the blame belongs to Dan Kelly and his campaign. Few conservative commentators took time to examine Kelly’s 2020 re-election catastrophe. His 2023 campaign underperformed his 2020 campaign by only 0.2%.  Dan Kelly is simply a poor candidate and unpopular in Wisconsin. It’s nothing more than that; it’s nothing less than that. 

Still, the hyperventilation over the race’s predictable result reveals much about the Republican Party’s attitude towards Christian conservatives. It’s no secret that establishment Republicans have historically—though privately—disdained their base. Lee Atwater, a Bush campaign consultant and RNC Chairman, was known to crudely mock pro-life activists behind closed doors. Barry Goldwater, thought by many to be the arch-conservative, took the rare step in a 1981 Senate speech of venting such opinions in public:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them…

It’s new, however, to see prominent conservative leaders and authors openly considering dumping pro-life voters. Post-Dobbs, Christian conservatives are considered a liability to the national GOP rather than an asset. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, perhaps the most ineffective RNC leader in modern history, blamed pro-lifers and made sure to check her diversity box as a suburban woman: “There is a messaging issue, and abortion is still an issue… I’m a suburban woman. I know this is an issue.” Ann Coulter was more forthright in her assessment:

The demand for anti-abortion legislation just cost Republicans another crucial race. Pro-lifers: WE WON. Abortion is not a ‘constitutional right’ anymore!  Please stop pushing strict limits on abortion, or there will be no Republicans left.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The Republican Party, despite all evidence to the contrary, is in the business of winning elections. The constituencies the party seeks to help win tend to ebb and flow with national cultural developments. A recent Wall Street Journal study chronicled the collapse in traditional values—patriotism, religion, and family. It’s no stretch to say that the collapse of these values poses an existential threat to the social conservative movement. 

Most Republican consultants and candidates will respond to the dominant passions of the American population, not the principles and values their faith demands of them. If those dominant passions require dumping commitments to religious conservatives, the Republican Party is all too happy to comply. The United States is changing and changing quickly. Political realignment is a symptom of that change, but the alignment may not prove favorable to the relationship between Christians and the Republican Party.

Conservative Christians need to be aware of these troubling developments and their power to contain and reverse them. Large Christian turnout in Republican primaries is the best way to remind national Republicans that they cannot ignore important social commitments they’ve made over a period of decades. While there is much work to be done to fix our own house, there is still time to remind Republicans to “dance with the ones who brung them.”

*Image Credit: Pexels

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Collin Pruett

Collin Pruett is Engagement Director and a staff writer for American Reformer. His background is in political communications where he has worked with dozens of candidates, non-profits, and political action committees. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative and Newsmax.