Most of the dust has settled from election night, and the nation has a clearer picture of what happened. As far as the House of Representatives and many state governments are concerned, the “blue wave” was quite real – and it has reshaped the political landscape in America.
For Religious Right groups, it’s a bitter pill. They were quite fired up about the midterms. Having put Donald Trump in the White House in 2016, they were sure they could help his party again.
Their optimism was misplaced. Yes, the Republicans held the Senate, but the House of Representative was a blow-out for the Democrats. They picked up at least 37 seats, the party’s biggest gain in the House since the post-Watergate election of 1974. The Religious Right would like to pretend that this election was not a referendum on their hero Trump, but it was, and the voters were clear: They wanted a check on Trump’s crass behavior and reckless policies.
Nate Silver, who makes a living analyzing these things, noted that more than 60 million people voted for Democratic candidates this year, a number that rivals Trump’s 2016 vote total. As Silver pointed out in a tweet, “There’s not any precedent for an opposition party coming this close to matching the president’s vote total from 2 years earlier.”
In Orange County, Calif., long a bastion of social conservatives, Democrats made a clean sweep. They now control all seven congressional districts in the region. Kris Kobach, a Religious Right favorite, lost his bid to become Kansas’ next governor. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, another Religious Right ally, was ousted. County Clerk Kim Davis was booted out in Rowan County, Ky. And don’t forget the wave of LGBTQ candidates who won, the rejection of a private school voucher expansion in Arizona and a vote by Massachusetts residents to preserve legal protections for transgender people.
This is not what the Religious Right wanted. As writer/researcher Katherine Stewart noted in a Nov. 2 New York Times column, Religious Right groups did everything they could to help the Republican Party this year: They flooded churches with biased “voter guides” that backed GOP candidates, and, as Stewart put it, pursued a “data-driven strategy.” The Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group founded and run by former Christian Coalition operative Ralph Reed, boasted that it would spend $18 million to target 125 million “social conservative voters” in 19 states through, as The Christian Post reported, “door-to-door interactions, digital ads, phone calls, and mailers.”
Lance Lemmonds, a Faith & Freedom Coalition staffer, boasted that the organization would “send out 28 million digital ads encouraging [conservative Christians] to vote. …” Lemmonds vowed that the group would “inundate Christian conservative voters in the last weekend” by sending “those ads directly to their cellphones.”
The overture flopped. Why? Part of the answer is that Reed and company clearly overstated what they intended to do. Reed has a long history of treating the truth like Silly Putty. His claim that Faith & Freedom Coalition would reach 125 million right-wing evangelical voters in 19 states is nonsense. There simply aren’t that many. In fact, the entire voter turnout for the 2018 midterms is estimated to be around 110 million. (I’m also skeptical of Reed’s claim that he dropped $18 million in this election. Publicly available financial records show that his group’s budget vacillates between $5 million in off years and $15 million in election years.)
But more importantly, it didn’t matter how much money Reed spent and how many cellphones he called because the voters had other ideas. They wanted a check on Trump, and they got it.
The American people don’t agree with the Religious Right. But Religious Right-backed candidates still win plenty of elections. This happens because many Americans, for whatever reason, choose to disengage. During the midterms, they definitely did not disengage. We can all see the results of that.
The lesson is obvious: If you want to defeat the Religious Right, get organized, get active and, most importantly, get to the polls on Election Day.
P.S. In light of the loss of the House, Reed is now peddling the line that the Religious Right needs to be kinder and gentler. I’ve heard that one before, and I don’t buy it for a minute. These groups are fueled by hate, division and fear. They won’t give that up.