There has been a good bit of talk about Michael Gerson’s book in the blogosphere today. I’m reviewing it in our next issue, so I won’t scoop myself there. But together with David Kirkpatrick’s “evangelical crackup” story in the New York Times and my own incessant yammering about Rudy and the religious right, Gerson-style politics raise an important question: If social issues become a less important part of the Republican Party’s brand at the same time evangelicals and other religious conservatives are moving left on economics, will these voters trend Democratic? Or will they stay in the GOP and try to pull it in a more “compassionate” direction?
While I’ve generally been skeptical of those who blame the religious right for big-government conservatism, recent trends do make this more of a concern. But I still wouldn’t get too carried away for three reasons. First, there isn’t much evidence that Wallis-like or even Gerson-like politics are catching on except among young evangelicals, who may move right on economics as they age, and the evangelical elite. Second, traditionalist Catholics already are to the left of the GOP on economics, conservative on social issues, and much more opposed to the Iraq war and other Bush foreign-policy initiatives than evangelicals — yet still a solid number of them vote Republican. Third, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the GOP will abandon social issues.
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