Why Republicans Are Still Running to the Right on Social Issues

Are we witnessing a renaissance of the religious political right?

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 10, 2015 9:54 am| ,

Picture this: a prominent Republican speaks at one of the country’s most liberal enclaves, The University of California at Berkeley. Not only is it a full house, he gets a standing ovation.

In that speech, from April of last year, Sen. Rand Paul railed against the NSA and the CIA, calling the intelligence community “drunk with power.” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, whom the Standard spoke with Wednesday, was there at the event and remembers thinking “Wow, this is different.”

Sen. Paul added an intriguing postscript during that speech. He told his crowd: “Remember when Domino’s finally admitted it had bad crust? The Republican Party must adapt or die.”

A couple of months later, the Washington Post reported that the party did seem to be changing, noting there was no standard bearer for social conservatives.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 2016 – and if you doubt it, then you haven’t turned on the TV on in the past 48 hours: Republican candidates are running to the right on social issues.

Is this – as some have put it – a resurrection of the religious right in presidential politics? William Martin is a senior fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston. He’s also the author of “With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America.”

About 40 percent of Republicans say they are evangelical or born-again Christians, Martin says. We don’t hear phrases like “religious right” anymore, Martin says, “part of that reason is because the religious right has simply become a major part of the Republican Party.”

In general, he says religious groups have powerful resources because they meet regularly and hear a consistent message.

“Evangelicals are accustomed to calling on people and saying ‘This is what you need to believe,'” Martin says.