‘Religious Right’ Still Key to Conservatism’s Future, Leaders Say

By Pete Winn | November 5, 2008 | 9:24 PM EST

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins

(CNSNews.com) - Social conservative leaders in Washington, D.C., say that Tuesday’s sea change election doesn’t spell the end of the conservative movement. But it will mean a thorough “shake-out” -- and the Religious Right needs to re-think its relationship with the GOP.
“I don’t think the conservative brand is damaged,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council told CNSNews.com.
“I think conservative values continue to be something that a large number – if not a majority -- of Americans identify with,” he said. “I think the brand problem is a Republican problem. And I do think they are going to have to do some rebuilding. I think part of that is reaching out to young people, and part of it is a return to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.”
There will always be a conservative movement in the United States, Perkins said.
“I think that as long as there are people in this country who care deeply about the values that dictate the environment in which their children grow up, the conservative movement will be strong,” Perkins told CNSNews.com.
But Tuesday’s election results were clearly a setback.
“You know, it comes and goes, and there have been some setbacks in recent years because, I think, the conservative movement has clearly been identified with the Republican Party,” he added. 
Perkins said that some in the GOP have “kind of fallen off the wagon” and have done things “which have brought discredit to the conservative movement” – a reference, he said, to scandals and allegations such as those that surfaced just before the 2006 election, as well as last week’s conviction in federal court of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens on ethics charges.
Perkins said that social conservatives have invested a lot of time and money in the Republican Party in the last few elections, with questionable returns.
“When you look at the investment that was made by conservatives into the Republican Party in the last few elections -- and the return -- there is some question whether or not the Republican leadership has actually delivered on some of these key issues – in particular, on the issues of life and marriage,” Perkins said.
Conservatives and Republicans made advances in minority communities in 2004 primarily on social issues, Perkins said, especially the issue of marriage – gains that have all but been erased.
“What the Republican leadership delivered in that area was marginal,” he added.
Connie Mackey, who works with Perkins as senior vice president of FRC Action but is a well-known conservative in her own right, said conservatives may need to reassess their relationship with the GOP.
“For conservatives, the Republican Party is simply a vehicle in which we ride. When that vehicle cracks up, which it looks like they have done in so many ways, we need to look for another vehicle,” Mackey told CNSNews.com.
Mackey predicted the conservative movement will face a “difficult time” of readjustment. Already, she said the “bloodletting” is beginning – with some blaming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a conservative Christian, for the ticket’s loss.
“Unfortunately, there are those who will want to blame Sarah Palin, which of course, is absurd,” Mackey said. “She was a boost to McCain. I don’t think he would have gotten as far as he did without her. And there are those who will look to the Christian Right to blame for what’s happened.”
In fact, some would like to “throw social conservatives under the bus,” she said.  
“It always happens, to a degree,” Mackey said. “They always look to the Christian Right to say, ‘If you people weren’t aboard, we could have this Big Tent, in which case we’d win.’ And of course, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Mackey, like Perkins, however, is hopeful for the future.
“I do think that there is a definite, wonderful future for conservatives,” she said. “Looking at (Louisiana Gov.) Bobby Jindal and (Rep.) Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and (Gov.) Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), we’ve got some great people to get behind, but it’s going to take some serious planning.”