The Undead

If you blink, as I did this weekend, you can easily miss the occasional MSM article on the Christian Right. No offense to the New York Times‘ Jason Horowitz, who did a good job on a profile of the extremely influential Iowa evangelical politician David Lane, but you get the sense assignment editors commission pieces like this with the instruction: “Go see if this Christian Right thing is finally dead.”

Horowitz is pretty clear in saying it’s not, and gives a good sense of how contemporary conservative evangelical leaders like Lane prefer to stay in the background, eschewing the celebrity status of a Ralph Reed or even a James Dobson and instead focusing on organizing ministers for political work and getting them to mix with Republican pols in his famous junkets to Israel and Eastern Europe. Indeed, I’m kinda surprised he could get Lane to speak as much or as frankly as he did:

Missing from his travel manifests and events are the Republican Party’s establishment candidates. While Mr. Lane is technically neutral at this point, he clearly is no fan of the more moderate wing of his party. He said he tried to rescue the 2008 and 2012 tickets by advocating Mr. Huckabee for vice president.

While he admires Jeb Bush’s record as governor of Florida, especially his opposition to taking Terri Schiavo off life support, he scoffed at Mr. Bush’s choice for evangelical liaison, noting that he was “26 years old” and that his father was “behind Romney.” And as far as Mr. Bush’s hiring an openly gay communications director, he said: “I don’t understand what he’s up to. Personnel is policy.”

Mr. Lane is himself something of a one-man operation. He said that he shares the same hard-charging engine as his father, a car dealer who made the Chevrolet Hall of Fame, and since setting up shop in Southern California in 1998, Mr. Lane has acted mostly behind the scenes. Last week’s conference, and the two presidential hopefuls, was a calculated step into the spotlight.

“If the Lord were to call 1,000 pastors in America — 1,000 — and they ended up with an average of 300 volunteers per campaign in 2016, that would be 300,000 grass-root, precinct-level, evangelical conservatives coming from the bottom up,” he said to the ballroom full of pastors. “It would change America.”

I admit to being fascinated by Lane, who’s kinda the Zelig of the Christian Right, popping up in all kinds of interesting places. But even though he leaves a light footprint, he definitely has a pulse.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.