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Christian Conservatives Plot 2016 Revival

Christian Conservatives Plot 2016 Revival

By Scott Conroy - November 25, 2014

SIMI VALEY, Calif. -- It was March 1981 and the president had just been shot.  

Soon after he heard the news, Ronald Reagan’s longtime California-based pastor, Donn Moomaw, rushed to the airport and boarded a plane to Washington.  

When he arrived at George Washington University Hospital, Moomaw found the wounded commander-in-chief lying in bed but cognizant. 

Still, the doctors told him that if John Hinckley’s bullet had ended up an inch or so closer to the president’s heart, Moomaw would’ve been speaking about Reagan in the past tense, rather than having a conversation with him.  

Moomaw related these events on Thursday to 110 Christian pastors and other evangelical leaders who had gathered for a brunch near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library --the unofficial Holy Land of American conservatism. It was the last day of a week-and-a-half-long junket that had taken them to historic sites in Europe to celebrate the legacies of Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Reagan. 

“I said, ‘Ron, if the bullet would’ve taken you, how would you have been with God?’” recalled the man who had been with the political Messiah himself during some of his most vulnerable moments. “He said, ‘I’d be OK.’” 

As the pastors munched on spinach frittata and waffles, Moomaw told them that he then asked Reagan why he was so confident of that assessment. 

The president thought for a moment before responding.  

“He said, ‘I have a savior.’”  

At this, several of his listeners put down their silverware and called out their reactions.  

“All right!”

“Amen!” 

“Woah!”

This was the kind of moment that made the all-expenses-paid trip -- dubbed “The Journey” and funded to the tune of $1 million by the American Renewal Project, an organization founded by inscrutable political operative David Lane -- worth the hefty price tag, in the eyes of its organizer and beneficiaries.

Lane, who is among the most influential conduits between the religious right and prominent Republican politicians, believes that his calling is to “reestablish a Christian culture” in the United States.  

“It’s evident we’ve lost the culture, and we’ve lost our heritage now,” he said in an interview. “I mean, with Obama, you’ve got red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the inauguration, 55 million babies dead.” 

On those assertions, he would be hard pressed to find much disagreement among the fellow travelers who completed The Journey with him last week.  

The enthusiasm for Lane’s work -- and for the man himself -- was palpable.  

After Moomaw wrapped up his remarks and Lane offered some closing words to a standing ovation, Paul Goulet, the senior pastor at a Las Vegas mega-church, leaped from his seat and onto the stage. 

Without stopping to ask permission, he requested that Lane and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- the trip’s celebrity attraction -- to come back on stage. 

“No one’s ever treated me this well,” Goulet said in reference to the soon-to-be-completed trip replete with fine dining, private tours and five-star hotel stays. “And I can honestly say I don’t know how to repay you.” 

He then asked that Huckabee return to his roots as an ordained Baptist minister, a request that the 2008 Republican presidential candidate obliged with vigor.  

As Huckabee began to lead the group in the first of many communal prayer sessions that day, the pastors-turned-parishioners extended their arms toward him and Lane.  

“God, you opened the opportunity for us to let this be a time for renewal,” Huckabee said. “For healing, for rebirth in our own spirits and what it really means to be called to leadership -- to be reminded that what the world looks at as great political movements really were spiritual movements.” 

Some of the pastors chimed their affirmation once again.  

“Amen!” 

“Yeah!” 

“OK!” 

Huckabee continued, “We pray that America can see again.” 

*** 

The last few years have not been kind ones for Christian conservatives in the political arena.  

A decade after George W. Bush won re-election in part by promoting his opposition to same-sex marriage, that practice is now favored by a majority of Americans and legal in 31 states. 

In the last two presidential races, the GOP has passed over candidates with strong ties to evangelicals in favor of establishment favorites who downplayed so-called “moral” issues on their paths to victory in the primaries and defeat in the general election. 

There is little doubt that the religious right has lost some of the clout it once enjoyed within the party -- a trend line that offers both pitfalls and opportunities for the GOP.  

With the 2016 cycle set to begin in earnest early next year, Republican strategists are pondering how they might replicate the achievements of the 2014 midterms during a presidential year, one in which its demographic challenge figures to be at least as substantial as it was in 2012.  Most of that discussion has centered on expanding the party’s reach to women, young people and minorities. 

But amid all the talk of enlarging the GOP tent, what has sometimes been lost in the conversation is the equally critical task of holding onto and mobilizing the base -- those millions of so-called “faith voters” who still have the power to make or break any Republican presidential candidate.  

As if the intent of Lane’s trip wasn’t clear enough, about half of the invited guests hailed from the first four voting states on the presidential nominating calendar: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. 

And Huckabee isn’t the only potential White House contender who has benefited from Lane’s organizational largesse. Last year, he took Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to Israel and has another potential international excursion with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the works. 

Chris Christie, the Catholic governor of New Jersey and likely 2016 presidential hopeful, turned down a recent invitation from Lane to lead a trip to Rome. 

Lane, who reminds anyone who will listen that he is “a political operative, not a pastor,” says that he will not endorse a candidate in the primaries but has made it clear he is not interested in getting behind a true believer who can’t go the distance.   

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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