It seems there is a growing misunderstanding on the part of candidates and lawmakers where evangelical Christians are concerned. Candidates treat Christians like one conservative demographic they need to court in order to be sure they have a good enough base of support to win an election. Candidates seem to think that saying, “I’m pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious-freedom, and my opponent is anti-life, anti-marriage, and anti-religious-freedom,” is good enough to secure that vote. Here’s what candidates do not understand: Christians want someone who runs on a platform bigger than simply, “I’m not my opponent.”
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: I see pencil-pushing consultants ride up alongside Congressmen and Senators with advice like, “Go ahead and vote for that tax-increase or that new regulation; moderates will love you for it, and evangelical Christians will still choose you over your opponent, because overall you’re more conservative than he is.” Those consultants don’t know evangelicals. If they did, they would know that when candidates pull stunts like that, we simply stay home on Election Day.
I’ll say it again: When evangelicals don’t like either of their options for a race, more often than not they stay home. They don’t vote at all. And when conservatives don’t vote, who’s left? Liberal voters. What kind of odds do you think that leaves the “more conservative” of the two candidates? Not very good ones.
Evangelicals want a strong, unabashedly conservative choice in an election. If they feel like a candidate is simply making himself out to be the lesser of two evils, they won’t vote for either candidate.
Now, I don’t say any of this as an indictment on our presidential candidates—nor do I say it as an indictment on any candidate running for office at the moment or any political party. I say it, rather, in response to all the pundits and consultants who go on TV year-round, talking about evangelical support for this person or that idea as though it were a sure thing. Evangelical Christians have a mind of their own. The fact that, say, abortion or marriage is the top issue for them does not mean they’ll automatically vote for someone based solely on that issue.
Contrary to popular belief, evangelicals do not see themselves as being on the conservative lawmaker’s side. They see the conservative lawmaker as being on their side. When those lawmakers support something—anything—that flies in the face of Christian ideals, evangelicals see that as betrayal. And evangelical Christians have very little desire to endorse someone like that—even if he or she is “the lesser of two evils.”
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.