David Brody has christened them “Teavangelicals.”
There’s so much overlap between the Tea Party and conservative evangelicals that Brody, chief political correspondent for TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, came up with his own term for this particular political animal.
Today at the National Press Club, Brody, a pollster and a panel of journalists discussed the “Teavangelicals” – and their potential political impact on the upcoming elections. (Brody is author of a new book The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of how The Evangelicals and the Tea Party Are Taking Back America.)
The consensus: these voters are solidly in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s corner, but no one knows for sure how hard they will work to turn out other voters on his behalf.
Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, rolled out polling data demonstrating heavy Religious Right influence on the Tea Party. Seven out of 10 Tea Partiers are white Christians, he says, and 47 percent of the movement’s devotees – almost half – consider themselves part of the Religious Right.
Tea Partiers have focused publicly on smaller government and lower taxes in their political activities, but they are just as right-wing on key social issues as their Religious Right brethren. Sixty-seven percent of Tea Partiers say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to 65 percent of white evangelicals who hold that view.
The numbers are just as closely aligned on marriage equality. Three-quarters of Tea Partiers say gay couples should not be allowed to marry, while 77 percent of white evangelicals take the same stance.
There are a few differences. For example, Jones says Tea Partiers are more tolerant toward Romney’s Mormon faith. Sixty-one percent say they are somewhat or very comfortable with a Mormon serving as president. Only 47 percent of white evangelicals say the same.
But since Romney has wrapped up the Republican nomination, Jones reports, evangelicals seem to have put aside their theological trepidations. Sixty-seven percent now have a favorable view of the likely GOP candidate.
Brody, a convert to evangelical Christianity, says Teavangelicals merge traditional Religious Right concerns with a conservative perspective on taxation and the size of government. They worry, he said, “about God getting smaller and government getting bigger. They see it all through a biblical worldview.”
Press club panelists today insisted that the movement is not large enough to dominate the Republican Party, but it is a bloc that has to be reckoned with. They note that Romney was not this movement’s first choice for president, and he may have to take steps to excite them if he wants to win. The panelists also note that the Tea Party corner in Congress is significant and has to be mollified.
And the movement’s power may grow in the future.
Brody says Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition – an outfit with a Teavangelical veneer – claims it will turn out three million evangelical voters who didn’t go to the polls in 2008. If the FFC succeeds, it could dramatically change the election outcome.
In addition, in his book, Brody says Teavangelicals are targeting state and local offices, from state legislatures down to school boards. They hope, he said, that “the ultimate result will be controlling the agenda and comprising the makeup of many of the state Republican parties.” Ultimately, he says, they want “an America where the federal government is minimized and Judeo-Christian principles are maximized.”
Advocates of church-state separation have cause to be concerned about the Teavangelicals. Many libertarians are involved in the Tea Party movement, but they don’t seem to be in the majority.
Brody denies that Teavangelicals want to turn America into a “Christian nation,” but if they want a government based on a “biblical worldview,” I’m not so sure. I’d like my government based on church-state separation – as the Constitution mandates.
Teavangelicals sound a lot like the same old Religious Right just dressed up in more secular garb.