Election 2016

Candidates Court the Fringe

Yes, the Republican Party base includes a large share of conservative Christians. But there is a grim double meaning to the word "base."


Panting heavily and gesticulating wildly, the imam raised his copy of the holy book high. In a voice shaking with emotion, he cited chapter and verse from the text supporting the idea that homosexuality is haram—sinful—and that the proper penalty for it is death. Was he calling for the execution of gays and lesbians now? No, he said—not right now. Now is not the time. They first must be given the opportunity to repent, just as America must be.

The imam made those comments before a rapt audience at a recent religious conference—where three Democratic presidential contenders also appeared. And the question must be asked: Why were they making common cause with such an extremist? Do they agree with his prescription? Is that their vision for America—a medieval theocracy where sexual minorities must repent or be executed?

Before proceeding further down that road, let's clear up a couple of points. The events described above did occur earlier this month, in Iowa. But the speaker was not Muslim. He was Pastor Kevin Swanson, appearing at  the National Religious Liberties Conference he organized. He did not cite the Koran for his assertions about homosexuality, but Leviticus and Romans.

No Democratic presidential contenders were there—but Republican presidential candidates Bobby Jindal (who has since dropped out), Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz were. All three attended the conference. Cruz, whose father was a conference speaker, told Swanson that "any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief"—which, as Reason's Ronald Bailey noted, flies in the face of the Constitution's proscription against religious tests for office.

Swanson is one of those apocalyptic apoplectics who finds Satan lurking in such unlikely places as Frozen and Harry Potter and How to Train Your Dragon. He claims America is "heading back into cannibalism, vampirism, tattooing, body mutilation and every form of fornication" and has praised Uganda's law mandating life in prison (formerly death) for homsexuality. He wasn't the only one at his conference preaching death for gay people, either.

Why on Earth did Republicans share a stage with such a nutcase? Cruz claimed not to know about Swanson's views, but that was before the conference took place. Once informed of them, why didn't he pull out?

As a writer for The Huffington Post noted, back when Barack Obama was running for president he took a lot of heat for attending a church led by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who once warned God would "damn America" for its sins. True, Swanson is not Cruz's pastor (or Huckabee's, or Jindal's). On the other hand, Wright, unlike Swanson, has not suggested the need to execute 12 million Americans, which is the approximate number of gays and lesbians in the U.S.

As the Cato Institute's David Boaz wrote recently, if a Democratic presidential candidate sucked up to a hatemonger who even hinted at killing millions of peaceful American citizens, Republicans would go ballistic. Yet conservatives don't hold their own candidates to a similar standard.

It's also worth comparing the blasé attitude conservatives hold regarding Christian wingnuts with the alarm they profess over "creeping Shariah." A number of states have passed legislation to ban the imposition of Shariah law, and Shariah is a popular topic on right-wing websites. Republican presidential candiate Ben Carson went so far as to impose another religious test when he said Muslims should not be president. Challenged on that, he eventually said a Muslim could be president, provided he or she "reject the tenets of Islam." Conservatives worry that Shariah would transform the U.S. from a tolerant, liberal democracy that respects individual rights into an intolerant, authoritarian theocracy that tramples upon them.

The irony, of course, is that this is little different from what the Kevin Swansons of the world would do. They might start from slightly different premises, but the outcome would be much the same.

Yet while Republican presidential contenders, or Democratic ones, for that matter, would never appear at a conference led by Islamic extremists, they apparently have no qualms about a conference led by Christian extremists. True, Christian extremists in the U.S. don't go around butchering innocent people, as ISIS did in Paris on Friday. But claiming "they're not as bad as ISIS" sure sets the bar awfully low, doesn't it?

Yes, the Republican Party base includes a large share of conservative Christians. But if Swanson is in any way representative, that gives a grim double meaning to the word "base."

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: John Kasich's Plan To Propagandize for "Judeo-Christian Values" Is Ridiculous, But Not For The Reasons You Expect.

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  1. Jeremiah Wright says hello.

    1. To begin with, knock off the cheap trick of saying it was an imam speaking when no, it was actually a christian pastor. WTF!

      I imagine you’re a big fan of dream sequences in the films you watch too, huh? Go to writing school you hack!

      The evangelicals have destroyed the republican party with their Wars on Women, Gays and Drugs.

      That the evangelical candidates of the GOP would share a stage with this whack job should come as to anyone.

      1. Republicans should declare piece on women. But only the HOT ones.

    2. All your base are belong to us.

  2. Really Hinkle? You are going to favorably quote Bailey’s fatuous assertion that Cruz’s desire for a religious person hold the office of president is a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of a legal disqualification based on religion?

    Could we get some writers here who understand the difference between “unconstitutional” and “notions I do not like”?

    1. No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States. Article 6, U.S. Constitution. How does Cruz’s comment comport with that? It may be just an opinion (and an odious one) but it is still unconstitutional.

      1. He was not suggesting it as legal test, which is what the Constitution prohibits, not a voters discomfort with a candidate’s religion or lack thereof.

        Again, the Constitution is a set of rules on the government, not the people.

      2. “Should not” is not the same as “must not”. That a candidate thinks Muslims “should not” be president does not qualify as unconstitutional.

        1. You guys are really bending over backwards to defend this comment. Parsing whether or not he implying that it should be law, his opinion that a non Christian isn’t fit for office is not in line with the Constitution.

          Of course there’s another way to interperate Cruz’ statement that a Commander in Chief should, “begin every day on his knees” – which is very pro gay rights.

          1. It is not defending the comment per se. It is objecting to the mischaraterization of what the comment means and what the constitutional prohibition is.

          2. That’s sexist. Although i can’t really imagine Hillary being on her knees.

  3. Because of the tribal natures of our system, the people that identify with the party do not criticize their own. They will grumble in private, but never come out and condemn the crazies of their party. This is true for both sides. Few core Democrats tell those with ideas like genetically modifying humans to be smaller to combat climate change to stuff their pie hole, just like few Republicans tell those with ideas that make us a totalitarian state to stuff their pie hole.

    If you are looking for condemnation of this sort of thing, you never go to the solid base of the party. They will affirm anything (we even have psychological research to prove it) they are told. Where you look for criticisms is outside the base, the people who are conservative but not necessarily Republican or those that are liberal but not necessarily Democrat.

    1. Yes, except no. It’s true, obviously, that people scrutinize the opposing “team” more closely for faults than their own, but your example of two sides is totally, ridiculously flawed. No one is seriously considering genetically modifying the human species. And every Republican candidate has to gain the approval of the Christian nut jobs.

      1. Multiple news publications around the world carried the “Story” of that particular idea – and have several times in the last 15 or more years. No greens went “Well, that’s stupid.” They stayed silent. How could that be “no one is seriously considering genetically modifying the human species”? Is this one of those “Ignore it because I don’t think they are serious” things? History has shown that’s not a responsible position to take.

        And, to counter your shrill admonition that ignores one side: The Democrats have to win the green and socialist nut job segments of their party to carry them into the White House. AKA the core base of democrats. This was my point: You AREN’T going to find anyone to rebuke Hillary or Sanders or Ted, or Bush 13 from their cores. All of the rebuffing comes from the opposition and the growing base in the center of the two bases that find what the parties have become ridiculous.

        1. To answer your question:

          ” Is this one of those “Ignore it because I don’t think they are serious” things?”

          Yes, that’s beyond obvious. And to say that history has shown that it’s “not a responsible position to take” is flatly wrong. There have been isolated examples over of ignoring movements that become powerful before they were dealt with, but 99.9% of these fringe ideas stay just that, fringe. We have, do and should continue to ignore ridiculous ideas that have zero chance of being enacted. To say otherwise is to say that candidates need to go out of their way to rebuke every crackpot idea that someone floats.

          Also, I’m not sure how I was shrill or ignored one side. I agreed with you in principle, but just pointed out that your example was flawed. All Republicans must court a group of voters and religious leaders that want biblical teachings in government, Democrats have to court their base too, but none of them have to engage with any group that supports genetically modifying the human species, much less gain their endorsement.

          Your dichotomy was bad and I pointed that out. That’s not ignoring one side.

          1. You should stop and look at history and realize your declaration about my dichotomy being bad is on pretty shaky ground.

            Pretty much any part of the industrial revolution was a crack pot idea ten years before it took off. The same with the rise of computers. In 2005 did you think that Apple would, two years hence, turn the smart phone market upside down? No. Apple wasn’t a phone company, despite the rumors. Since the 1800s, the western world has been in a constant state of change – changes that were ignored until they were suddenly upon the world and people had to adapt to them.

            This is not “isolated examples” – it is the way of our recent history stretching back a quarter-millennia. Heck, in 1985, did you think that the climate change industry would be how it is, today?

            And since you think the greens aren’t crazy enough to go through with it, how have they worked out their plans in Germany? A nationally destabilized energy grid that their engineers think will fail in less than 3 years. When they started energiewende, they didn’t even conceive of the damage that would be done. Today’s outcome was exactly as preposterous as you now say this latest green idea is. Surely, they would have said at the time, that sane, responsible heads wouldn’t let anything like this happen, hm?

            I mean, at what point should we start listening to people’s words and ideas instead of ignoring them, if not the beginning?

            1. You are displaying a fairly high level of confusion, I will try to sort it for you.

              Your dichotomy is in fact terrible and my characterization is spot on because of the reason I outlined above, but I guess will reiterate – Democrats do not have to go to multiple conventions to kiss the ring of fringe ideas like the one you mentioned, but Republicans DO have to repeatedly go to CPAC and other forums like the National Religious Liberties Conference referenced in the piece and others to kowtow to those that would like to impose their religious views on others though government means.

              As for the rest of what you said, I don’t know who you were directing that to but it wasn’t to me. Comparing technological innovation to forced genetic modification of the entire human species is a complete non sequitur. However I would note, people were not forced to adapt to the industrial revolution or Apple making pocket sized computers available, people embraced these changes as the products they produced made their lives better.

              1. And yes, there are some isolated examples of ideologies that spread when they shouldn’t have – Like 9/11 truthers, but the reason you can think of some and not the countless other dumb ideas that went nowhere is because of the availability heuristic – it’s why you can name the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks from the 49ers, but not all the high school quarterbacks from the Bay area. By your logic, everyone who plays football in San Francisco is Joe Montana.

                Then you say that I don’t think “the greens are crazy enough to go through with it” Go through with what? Even if you can show me an example of someone who really wants genetic engineering as a means to combat climate change, there is no possible path to making something like that happen.

                Lastly, Germany will have power in 3 years. The destabilization you are refering to is a product of having TOO MUCH power coming from renewables. I’d be happy to make a bet with you of any amount to the charity of your choosing that in November 2018 Germany will have electricity. And even if I were to lose that bet, you seriously think that a destabilized grid in one country is “exactly as preposterous” as artificially changing the entire human race? What on earth are you talking about?

                1. You’ve brought some fairly wide ranging ideas into this internet discussion, none of your comparisons make much sense. My hunch is that you’re preoccupied with the extreme environmental left, which is fine, but the power and influence they hold on the Democratic party is nowhere near the hold that conservative christians have on the Republicans. You’d be on much firmer ground citing the Dems ties to labor unions, for example.

                  Oh, and climate change is real. The reason the industry, as you call it, has grown since 1985, is that it’s causes and effects are more well understood now than they were then.

                  1. You are very misguided. I’m not “preoccupied,” I’m simply drawing on examples of the very same movement you seem to have issues criticizing. I will note that you seem very up-at-arms over the fact that the green movement was criticized off-hand. Your tribal identity? Sorry.

                    And it’s not that “dumb ideas go nowhere.” It’s that they sit on a shelf until they can be used. Since you don’t like Green criticisms, look to income tax. It failed, what, four times before it stuck in the US? I can keep going, giving example after example. Just because some ideas are sitting right now and someone isn’t trying to actively implement them this minute doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be shown the light of day and their flaws revealed.

                    Oh, and climate change is real – it’s just not driven by carbon dioxide. The industry has grown up around an idea that is easy to disprove. The reason it has done so is because it has given politicians an excuse to both centrally plan and add taxes for more government revenue. It is just one more area that the government should have no involvement in picking winners and losers.

                    1. OK, I’m going to step off here. You’re not engaging with anything I’ve said, you’re bringing up more non sequiturs – the income tax? How in the world is that germaine to the discussion? – you accuse me of having a green agenda when I just point out your deeply flawed thinking. You clearly do not understand what the availability heuristic is, hence you think that bringing up “example after example” would prove something. (Even though, weirdly, you haven’t brought up even one relevant to this discussion). You continue to refuse to acknowledge that your initial comment was a terrible analogy, and now I know why, you’re just a deeply confused person. I am no green activist, I’m a libertarian leaning registered Republican, but I accept the 98% of scientists who say Global Warming is real and is driven by CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, but you’re free to believe whatever nonsense is in your head.

                      Good luck and goodbye forever.

                    2. I brought up several examples, which you rejected because I’m apparently “pre-occupied.” And I have shown that the availability heuristic isn’t applicable because it operates on a binary principle of “if it isn’t, it will never be” which has never been the case.

                      I’m glad you’re gone forever. You obviously missed every point I made.

  4. Typo second paragraph.

  5. “True, Christian extremists in the U.S. don’t go around butchering innocent people”

    I guess A. Barton has never heard of Eric Robert Rudolph. He killed 2 people and injured 120 others for his anti-abortion/anti-gay religious views. How does that not compare to Islamic terrorists? How about other abortion clinic bombings. Or abortion doctors killed in cold blood? Religious extremists are the same throughout the world, no matter the god they claim to kill for.

    1. So the Republicrats are courting religious types who call for the killing of up to 12 million Americans if they do not repent? I as a REALLY religious type, would point out to these WEAK WIMP fake-religious types, that God will not be happy with a mere 12 million dead Americans; He wants us ALL dead!

      And I can quote chapter and verse to prove it, all ye infidels!!!

      Our that them thar VALUES of society outta come from that them thar HOLY BIBLE, and if ya read it right, it actually says that God wants us to KILL EVERYBODY!!! Follow me through now: No one is righteous, NONE (Romans 3:10). Therefore, ALL must have done at least one thing bad, since they’d be righteous, had they never done anything bad. Well, maybe they haven’t actually DONE evil, maybe they THOUGHT something bad (Matt. 5:28, thoughts can be sins). In any case, they must’ve broken SOME commandment, in thinking or acting, or else they’d be righteous. James 2:10 tells us that if we’ve broken ANY commandment, we broke them ALL. Now we can’t weasel out of this by saying that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament, because Christ said that he’s come to fulfill the old law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:17). Read on below…

      1. So we MUST conclude that all are guilty of everything. And the Old Testament lists many capital offenses! There’s working on Sunday. There’s also making sacrifices to, or worshipping, the wrong God (Exodus 22:20, Deut. 17:2-5), or even showing contempt for the Lord’s priests or judges (Deut. 17:12). All are guilty of everything, including the capital offenses. OK, so now we’re finally there… God’s Word COMMANDS us such that we’ve got to kill EVERYBODY!!!

        (I am still looking for that special exception clause for me & my friends & family? I am sure I will find it soon!)

        1. Before / lest ?

          ‘A) The Homeland Security-types come by to question me, or?
          ‘B) I eventually decide to run for Inter-Galactic Emperor, and someone finds these writings to throw in my face?

          ? (I think “A” to be near-infinitely more likely than “B”, by the way)?

          ? let me please amend. Yes, I was being sarcastic. Un-believers will find my point obvious (we all pick and choose our verses to confirm what we already think, and we can literally justify ANYTHING that we want to justify, out of almost ANY “Holy Book”, if not just every last lousy one of them).

          What I really think? All ideologies (religions, nationalism, libertarianism) can be perverted and run to an extreme. There is but ONE exception, and that is LOVE! NO ONE ever has done evil out of genuine and sincere love! OK, “love” is nebulous? But we all know what it is. “Love” all of creation (except for AIDs viruses, un-earned suffering, and evil things), and all will be well! Love? Can NOT go wrong!

    2. I guess the islamite ones are just more effective at killing lately.

    3. You need to get some perspective. There are 200 million Christians in the US. In the last 30 years, two of them have been terrorists. There are a small number of million of Muslims in the US. In the past 30 years a whole lot of them have been terrorists.

      There are a couple of important reasons for that. Christianity at its core is not a violent religion, and Christians in the west are also citizens of a modern state where butchery isn’t the way to enforce your will – “render to Caesar” is interpreted to mean that Christianity does not need to control government. Ignorant people will quote the old testament and imagine it rules all Christians, but it does not – it is part of the Jewish religion, although you may note the lack of Jews committing terrorism also. Islam, on the other hand, is explicitly violent. Unlike Christ, Mohammed was unable to spread his religion by preaching – he had to resort to warfare, and a warfare that spared no innocents. In Islamic law, later pronouncements supercede earlier ones when they conflict, and it was the later commands that invoked violence, the murder of homosexuals and apostates, etc.

      Another reason is that many of the Muslims in the US come from very different cultures. Those cultures are tribal and have expect Islam to be enforced by the government.

      The combination of these facts means that citing “extremist Christians” is usually way out of proportion

      1. The only way you can get to “two of them have been terrorists” is either to reclassify a whole bunch as *not* terrorists, or to reclassify a whole bunch as *not* Christians.

        Which, admittedly, is a common practice. When Christians go on murder sprees in America you regularly get both responses.

        That is to say… two men, both American, commit the same crime. If the man is Muslim, he’s likely to have his religion prominently displayed and the act called terrorism. If the man is some sect of Christianity, he’s likely to have his religion downplayed or denied (“he’s not a *real* Christian”) and the act will *not* be called terrorism.

  6. “As the Cato Institute’s David Boaz wrote recently, if a Democratic presidential candidate sucked up to a hatemonger who even hinted at killing millions of peaceful American citizens, Republicans would go ballistic. Yet conservatives don’t hold their own candidates to a similar standard”

    Works for both sides. Liberals do not hold their candidates to same standard they hold conservatives. Neither does the media.

    Don’t like what they are saying here, but be real. The supporters on both sides are blind to their own leaders.

    I think the liberal side (with the media) is much, much worse at it than the conservatives.

  7. “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief”

    Uhm, seriously is phrasing just dead?

  8. As the Cato Institute’s David Boaz wrote recently, if a Democratic presidential candidate sucked up to a hatemonger who even hinted at killing millions of peaceful American citizens, Republicans would go ballistic.

    Members of either TEAM don’t hold their own fellow ‘tardos to the same standard. They’re all raging hypocrits. Hope everyone was sitting down for that stunning revelation.

  9. See Christians are worse than Hitler !!’!1!!

    – derp

  10. I don’t agree with what the jackass pastor said, but… to seriously compare a guy who spent almost two decades in the church of an America-hating asshole (who also called himself a “second father” to Obama) with a few candidates that just happened to be in the same building as a gay-hating asshole is fucking beyond absurd.

  11. The complete lack of understanding of what that pastor was saying is sad. This is the kind of pathetic hit job I’d find out was posted at huff post or some other statist rag. This seems akin to the Alan Grayson “Taliban Dan” ads. When that pastor is saying homosexuality is deserving of death, he is saying it’s deserving of that because it’s a sin, and all sin is deserving of death. Guess what, there are plenty more sins than just homosexuality. He’s also saying that homosexuals, like any other sinner, which we ALL are, can repent and seek God’s forgiveness. This is hardly a call to execute every homosexual in the country, and anyone with even the most basic understanding of Christianity would have easily understood that that is what the pastor meant. Now, you can disagree with the above beliefs, and I would certainly figure any non-Christian would likely disagree, but don’t go misrepresenting what is actually being said.

    As for the anyone who doesn’t start their day off praying on their knees shouldn’t be in the White House, that is obviously a statement of personal preference, not a call for a test for all presidential candidates. Again, completely obvious to anyone who isn’t trying to make an attack against Christians, no matter how laughably out of context.

    1. I’d like to see the entire quote. The way the author of this article made it sound the quote was calling for their death sometime in the future; I highly doubt this is the case. See my above comment as to why this call to kill the disobedient wasn’t unjust and also doesn’t apply today.

  12. Gaystapo Calls for Arrest of “Unenlightened” Pastor | Fire Breathing Christian
    Which is pretty much why the Gaystapo/Crybully Brigade over at HuffPost wants Pastor Swanson arrested.
    In Arrest Pastor Kevin Swanson?, Marc Leandro writes:
    I believe that the words of Iowa Pastor Kevin Swanson at last weekend’s so-called National Religious Liberties Conference, and on many previous occasions, may well meet the definition of incitement to illegal action and that he should be arrested under available federal statutes, in order to determine whether his speech legally qualifies as incitement.
    Here again we see weaponized victimhood in action. If you, me, or Pastor Swanson dare speak out clearly as to the evil, sinful, and culturally corrosive nature of the LGTBQRSTUVWXYZ movement, then we must be silenced. We must be arrested. The State must step in and make us stop.

    1. It is LBGT. I LOVE lesbians.

  13. Captain Tolerance continued:
    It seems only a matter of time before a follower of Mr. Swanson takes his words straight to heart and kills a member of the LGBT community in the belief that they are helping to “cleanse” the country of what ills it.
    Statist and Gaystapo types of all sorts routinely employ this tactic to justify the perpetual expansion of State power over its increasingly fearful, dependent, and compliant cattle. Every evisceration of privacy rights, private property rights, and free speech rights is always “for our own good”, of course. (See also: Privacy is for masters. Transparency is for slaves. Welcome to “the land of the free” and the home of the NSA.)
    Folks like Captain Tolerance here just want to “take care” of us. They only want to see their “enlightened” perspectives enforced through the brute force of the State for our own benefit in the name of peace, happiness, kittens and bunny rabbits.
    They’re all about love. And if you disagree, you should go to jail. [*hugs*]

  14. Another article claiming to be the only reasonable opinion. Denigrating, dismissing, and condescending of conservatives and Christians. Your liberalism is glaringly obvious, but no doubt you are proud of that.

    1. Well yes. A common notion about libertarians is “socially liberal, fiscally conservative”

  15. To people thinking this is just another case of not going after your own team, I encourage you to explore the history of LGBT advocates and lobbyists in the Democrat party.

    Namely, that we are where we are today, with a Democrat party friendly to LGBT rights, *because* we went after our own party. We pushed, and yes, punished, our own party in order to change it.

    That’s something “we’re not all like that” Republicans (who claim not to be social conservatives) have been unwilling to do to their own team.

    1. You must be new here. See “Republican Liberty Caucus” and cannabis prohibition. The caucus votes with Democrats in a slow repeal of Prohibition.

  16. What we need in America is a baseless party.

  17. This is a red-herring article by the RINO shill, Barfdom Hinkle.

  18. How ironic to read Reason talking about candidates courting the fringe . . .

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