Do we really want the evangelical vote to be irrelevant?

Here is an excellent analysis of how we become insignificant by Jacques Berlierblau, Georgtown University.

Is the Evangelical Vote Irrelevant?

A whole bunch of things have gone awry for Republican White Evangelicals in the run-up to the 2008 election. First and foremost, they have been unable, inexplicably, to field an organic, homegrown, first-tier candidate of their own. This leads me to ask: why didn’t they just support (and bankroll) the affable, impeccably Evangelical (and underfunded) B-lister Mike Huckabee from the moment he threw his hat into the ring?

Second, conservative Christian leaders are clearly not all on the same page. Some have been oddly reluctant to identify their dog in this fight. Others have placed their bets on completely different contenders (e.g., Richard Land seems fond of Fred Thompson. James Dobson was reportedly enamored of Newt Gingrich. Gary Bauer backed McCain in 2000. After his victory in the Iowa straw poll Huckabee picked up a handful of endorsements from lower-level pulpit politicos).

This is related to a third problem: taking their cues from leadership the rank-and-file have been expressing their own rugged Protestant individualism. Refusing to unanimously line up behind one aspirant, they have dispersed their votes across the entire slate of GOP hopefuls. Catholics, Mormons, Episcopalians (or should I say Baptists?)—they’re open to it all! Let it never be said that these good Americans vote blindly for their own. Just ask Mike Huckabee.
Factor in that more than half a dozen Republicans are all jonesing, hard, for the Evangelical vote and you have the strange specter of a once massively influential constituency that is about to neutralize itself into electoral irrelevance.

And then there is the specter of Giuliani. A few weeks back James Dobson not so subtly suggested that he and his fellow travelers would sooner back a third-party candidate than America’s mayor. A couple of days ago, a widely circulated memo from Conservative Christian Mark DeMoss of the faith-based public relations firm The DeMoss Group, stressed that Giuliani “clearly does not share our values on so many issues” (emphasis in original).

Whereas Dobson proposes full retreat from the Republican Party, DeMoss endorses Mitt Romney. While DeMoss mentioned the truism noted above that he is more concerned that a candidate shares his values than his theology, he did not pause to explain why John McCain or Fred Thompson (whose values and theological views are also close to his) would be less viable options.

I will have more to say about Romney in future posts. At present, let me float two theories about the relevance of the Evangelical constituency in Republican party elections. When they are united, Conservative Protestants are very necessary, but not sufficient, for a victory. And when they are not united, as Rudy Giuliani is wagering, they are far less necessary.