8 ways faith will matter at the Republican National Convention
For the next five days, the eyes of the political world will be on Tampa, Florida, the site of the Republican National Convention. And though politics will be the name of the game, it’s a safe bet that religion will also play a major role. The convention opens with a prayer from a Hispanic evangelical leader and closes with a benediction from a Catholic cleric who’s sometimes called “America’s pope.”
In between, balloons will drop on the first Mormon to be nominated by a major political party to be president of the United States. Here are eight ways faith will matter this week. What did we leave out? Let us know in comments and we’ll expand our list as warranted.
1. The ghost of Todd Akin
Most people couldn’t pick him out of lineup and he won’t be attending the convention this week. But the Missouri Senate candidate who claimed that women could prevent conception in cases of “legitimate rape” opened a rift in the Republican Party, with GOP chieftains pressuring him to drop out while some powerful conservative Christian activists rally to his defense. Those activists are using the Akin episode to allege that the Republican Party wants quash their socially conservative agenda even as it happily accepts their votes. If the infighting continues into this week, there could be a battle for GOP’s soul at a moment when the GOP wants to project unity.
2. The M word
Even now that he’s talking more about his religious faith, Mitt Romney almost never refers specifically to Mormonism or to his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet Romney has held a series leadership positions in his church. Will the Republican Party continue to studiously avoid one of its presidential candidate’s defining characteristics? Or will some convention speaker make a case for why Romney’s Mormonism is an asset? Will Romney himself mention his religion as he accepts his party’s nomination?
3. Ladies night (or week)?
For months, the GOP has been on the defensive, as Democrats say Republicans are waging a “war on women,” a theme the Dems began sounding when the American bishops blasted the White House for its contraception mandate for insurance companies earlier this year. This week, Republicans face a delicate balancing act in trying to assuage the concerns of moderate women voters while also satisfying its religiously conservative base. (See ghost of Todd Akin, above). A big part of that mission falls to Ann Romney, the Republican nominee’s wife, and to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of whom have choice speaking slots.
4. The possibility of a culture war speech
“There is a religious war going on in this country,” former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan told the 1992 Republican convention in a primetime address. “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself. For this war is for the soul of America.” There are still debates over whether the speech, which provoked a media frenzy, helped or hurt President George H.W. Bush, who would go on to lose to Bill Clinton. But the Republican Party is keen on avoiding such moments as it tries to win over independents this fall. There’s some nervousness about what Rick Santorum will say in his convention address.
5. Religious liberty
Many conservatives are livid over the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurers offer free contraceptive coverage, even for employees of Catholic institutions. Plus, talking up religious liberty is likely less of a turnoff for moderate voters than is talk about bans on abortion and gay marriage, traditionally the top concerns of religious conservatives. Catholics and evangelicals, two key voting blocs, have been buzzing about religious liberty for months, with mega-pastor Rick Warren recently canceling plans for a presidential forum with Obama and Romney and announcing plans for one on religious liberty instead.
When it comes to foreign policy, look for convention speakers to try outdo one another in pledging support for the Jewish State – and in railing against Obama for what they’ll allege are his administration’s shabby treatment of a key American ally. Israel is especially important to the GOP’s evangelical base, some of whom see a biblical bond with the Jewish people and some who believe Israel must be in Jewish control before the Second Coming can happen. Mitt Romney included Israel as one of his marquee stops on his recent foreign trip, including a photo-op at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
7. Hurricane theology
Will some televangelist claim that Tropical Storm Isaac, which is scheduled to hit Florida Sunday night and which may pass over or close to Tampa, is God’s way of punishing the GOP for insufficient piety? It wouldn’t be the first time a prominent preacher blamed severe weather on American insubordinance.
8. “America’s pope”
The convention’s closing prayer will be delivered by Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who leads the American Catholic bishops and is sometimes referred to as America’s pope. It’s a good indication of just how important the Catholic vote is thought to be this year, with Catholics accounting for 1 in 4 Americans and considered to be the quintessential swing bloc. Whoever wins these voters will likely win the White House.