Second Coming

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Mark J. Rozell and Clyde Wilcox. Second Coming: The New Christian Right in Virginia Politics. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Pp. IX + 285. ISBN 0-8018-5297-8.


Summary

In this book, Mark Rozell and Clyde Wilcox studied the influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party in Virginia in the early 1990’s. The authors approach the subject as political scientists using interviews and surveys of GOP activists during the 1993 state elections and the 1994 Virginia senatorial election as a basis for their conclusions. This book is not a look at what happened, but instead, it is an examination of why Christian Right candidates did not win in Virginia at a time of heavy Republican landslides in both state and federal elections in the two years studied.

Rozell and Wilcox begin their book by examining the conceptual relationship between the Christian Right and the Republican Party. Were the adherents of the Christian Right social positions part of a social movement, an interest group, or a faction of the Republican Party? The authors believe that during their ascendency in Virginia, Christian social conservatives could be considered any of the above. As a social movement, the Christian Right emphasized the policy grievances that affected an identifiable group of citizens (P. 14). This was particularly true during the 1980’s when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority was considered the strongest voice of the Christian Right. As an interest group, social conservatives had well-organized, hierarchical structures with established leaders (P. 20). By the early 1990’s, Pat Roberston’s Christian Coalition had established itself as an interest group. As a party faction, the social conservatives operated within the larger party structure building coalitions with other factions to achieve party goals. Much of the book is about the Christian Right as a faction during the 1993 and 1994 elections.

The book contains a good analysis of the differences in evangelical Christians that led to strains on the Christian Right as an effective faction within the Republican Party. According to the authors, fundamentalists believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible and their views were represented by the Moral Majority. Because of their literal views, fundamentalists tended to resist compromise with anything that conflicted with their analysis of the Bible. Pentecostals were driven more by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and showed more willingness to compromise with fiscal conservatives. The Christian Coalition was led by Pentecostals. Neo-evangelicals were more moderate in their religious views and held political views that were also more moderate. In order for this diverse group to operate as an effective faction in the Republican Party, Russell and Wilcox show that they had to be willing to form a coalition with more moderate factions of the party.

But Christian conservatives were not always willing to compromise within the party. In using conventions rather than primaries to nominate candidates in 1993 and 1994, Rozell and Wilcox show that the Christian Right was able to dominate the convention, but they lost the support of the moderate Republicans. At that convention Michael Farris won a bitter fight for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. As a member of the Moral Majority who was outside the mainstream of the party. Farris was defeated in the 1993 general election by the Democratic candidate in spite of a landslide victory for GOP candidate George Allen for Governor. Again in 1994, Oliver North, a charismatic Christian backed by the Christian Right, lost his bid for the U. S. Senate to an unpopular Democrat, Charles Robb, at the same time of a nationwide Republican takeover of Congress. In each case, the Christian conservative lost support from more moderate wings of the party.

Second Coming gives an excellent account of how a motivated group of people who feel political grievances are able to become a factor in the political scene. Virginia was used as an example, and the authors make a convincing case that the Old Dominion was a good case study to understand the conservative movement of the latter part of the twentieth century. Conservatism has taken both a fiscal and social platform. The adherents of each platform had to find common ground before conservatives could win elections.


Commentary

Curtis Vaughn, Fall 2007

This book is an interesting follow-up to Robert Mason’s book, Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority. Within a quarter of century after Nixon unleashed his rhetoric about the silent majority, a new conservative force had emerged in America that did not necessarily resemble the majority Nixon envisioned that would cement his political future. The new conservatism was driven by social issues directly related to an agenda of right wing Christians who moved from being a social movement into an important faction in the Republican Party. Their brand of conservatism found little room for moderates such as Nixon. The analysis of how that change occurred so rapidly is the strength of the work of Rozell and Wilcox.

Since the Second Coming is a political science analysis rather than history, Rozell and Wilcox were able to design a survey of Virginia Republicans to specifically answer their inquiries about the Christian Right movement. At both the state and local levels, social issues were the wedge that separated the Christian Right and more moderate Republicans. At the state level, issues separating the two factions included abortion and gay rights, and at the county level, family life education and the types of books available at public libraries distinguished moderates from the Christian Right. In order for the views of the social conservatives to become part of the party platform, the Christian Right had to organize politically and be willing to accept the agenda of economic conservatives. Fiscal issues were not the rallying point for social conservatives.

To some extent, the work of Rozell and Wilcox seems dated at this point since we have seen both the dominance of a unified conservative agenda and the divisions that are becoming more evident in the Republican coalition during the Bush administration. However, the understanding of how a social movement became an important faction of a national political party is still relevant. For instance, it helps explain why some social movements never become important politically. Without hierarchical leadership and a willingness of that leadership to compromise with other political factions, social movements quickly disappear (P. 14). With that understanding, the political upheaval of the second half of the twentieth century better comes into focus.

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