For social conservatives dissatisfied with other GOP choices, the "Law & Order" actor and former Tennessee senator represents a Ronald Reagan-like figure, someone they hope will agree with them on issues and stands a chance of winning.
But Thompson's less-than-clear stance on a federal gay marriage amendment and his delay in entering the race are partly responsible for a sudden shyness among leading evangelicals.
For almost two decades now, Fundagelical Christians have made it very, very clear that they vote for political candidates based on one issue: their stated positions on abortion. Everything else is a side issue. There's a case to be made for this -- if you believe that abortion is murder, full stop, then it makes sense that one would see it dominate other issues. I'm working on a longer piece about Francis Schaeffer, arguably the first real Evangelical philosopher. He was the one who really fought to anchor this idea in the fundagelical psyche at a time when abortion was "a Catholic issue."
The problem for these Christians, however, has always been their need to see the people they support as heroes of the faith. Sometimes it leads to comical attempts at avoiding cognitive dissonance when a politician comes out of the closet or says something incompatible with the core of Christian belief. More important, though, is the fact that it blinds these believers to the fact that many politicians are willing to switch sides in a debate if their core constituencies feel strongly about it. This is called representative government.
This leads to situations like the ones described in the article. These Christians have spent decades demonizing Democrats for being 'pro-murder' and lauding the 'defenders of life' in the Republican party. Now the Evangelical/Business coalition that formed the engine of the Republican machine is cracking, and many of the candidates angling for the 2008 Presidential nomination are edging away from the pro-life and anti-gay-rights planks of the party platform.
Some, like candidate Fred Thompson, are ostensibly pro-life, but have a history of pro-abortion lobbying and public statements of opinion. This challenges the aforementioned conviction that drives many Fundagelicals: agreeing with us is not enough: you must really be one of us. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation, certainly: if you talk the talk and can hit the right subtle buttons with Biblical language, you can get a free pass on many issues. It also means that they are faced with some very, very difficult choices in the upcoming presidential race. The conservative republican candidates include pro-abortion lobbyists, divorced cross-dressers, and not-quite-friendly military men. On the liberal Democratic front, the front-runners include a soft-spoken pro-choice candidate who uses religious language comfortably and discusses faith and responsibility in language that's familiar and reassuring to most mega-church attendees. Update: An interesting MetaFilter thread now details Hillary Clinton's involvement with The Fellowship, a powerful Chrisitan lobbying organization in Washington. Time to update the scorecard.
Fundagelicals painted themselves into a corner: they shouted from the rooftops that they were single-issue voters and demonized politicians that didn't bite the electoral bait. Now that the coalition they forged 25 years ago is weakening, they have nowhere to go: they've pushed all issues other than abortion to the moral margins and they're left sniping at their few remaining friends for not being sufficiently devoted to the cause.