On the opening segment of tonight’s Hardball (replayed at 7:00 p.m. EST. on MSNBC), pundits Howard Fineman, Josh Marshall and host Chris Matthews examine former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s calculated appeal to religious conservatives in Iowa. Gingrich and several other Republican presidential hopefuls spoke last night at the state’s “Faith and Freedom” forum.
Not too long ago Gingrich was a secularist, a political leader who paid necessary lip service to the Republican evangelical base but who cared more about lowering the capital gains rate than the abortion rate. Gingrich has changed – he converted to Catholicism last year and wears his new found faith (one with a particularly conservative, some would say “orthodox” bent) on his sleeve. His party has also changed.
Once a coalition of economic conservatives (tax cuts their gospel), national security hawks (the neocons who promoted the Iraq invasion), and social conservatives (abortion and gay marriage at the top of their agenda), the latter now dominate state Republican parties throughout the country. In a large Republican field where organization matters most and a plurality of between 20%-30% may be enough for “victory” in early caucuses and primaries, social conservatives will be the decisive constituency in selecting the next Republican nominee.
Gingrich tailors his message to these activists.
“There should be no distinction between economic, national-security, and social conservatives,” he told the Iowa audience. “We should all base our principles on fundamental questions of morality.”
Said Gingrich, “Now why does that matter? Because it means the power comes from God to each one of you – personally! You are personally sovereign. You loan power to the government. The government does not loan power to you. And that is the fundamental division between most Americans and the secular, socialist people around Obama, and the degree to which they do not understand America – cannot possible represent America – and cannot lead us to a successful future.”
On Hardball, The Daily Beast’s Howard Fineman noted Gingrich’s “new religiosity,” while Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall said Gingrich’s personal history – he’s been married three times – might obscure his message.
Perhaps. Gingrich is, to be sure, a flawed candidate. But even this early in the race he has demonstrated a willingness to mold a message appealing to activist conservative Christians, the constituency that determines Republican presidential nominees.