Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Commentary on Gingrich's Presidential Aspirations Continues

Newt Gingrich and Wife Callista
Religion Dispatches has two good pieces today looking at (first essay) Newt Gingrich's attempt to re-create himself as the model Catholic presidential candidate, and (second essay) at the role religion and the religious right will be likely to play in the election.  Joanna Brooks surveys Gingrich's "new Catholic" rebranding.

As she notes, Gingrich is already playing to audiences who buy the current ideological party line of the Catholic hierarchy and apologists for the hierarchy--namely, that Western nations are succumbing to godless secularism, and only a return to religion and conservative moral values will heal all the ills that ail us.  Gingrich began to float this analysis--and his "new Catholic" image--in the 2008 elections with his Rediscovering God in America project, the themes of which he keeps stressing now in tours around the nation in which he and (third) wife Callista hawk a film they've made about John Paul II and his role in defeating communism in Poland.

And Sarah Posner explores the developing role of the pastors' policy briefings in the 2012 elections.  As she notes, this Iowa pre-election event is sponsored and funded by a secretive group called the Iowa Renewal Project, which featured only Mike Huckabee among GOP presidential candidates in the build-up to the 2008 elections, though Gingrich (who was not then running as a presidential candidate) was invited to speak, as well.  

This time around, the group has invited a number of GOP hopefuls, including Huckabee, Gingrich, Haley Barbour, and Michelle Bachmann.  Iowa is a flash-point for the religious right for two reasons: as one of the first primary states, it helps determine the course of the elections.  And because it has legalized same-sex marriage, it is under heavy attack from the religious right and the Republican party in general.

Finally, at Huffington Post, this recent article picked up from AP feed asks whether Gingrich's murky marital past will encumber him as he tries to rebrand himself as the model Catholic candidate in the 2012 elections.  As the article notes, in the plus column, Gingrich is a media darling who have helped him craft an image of himself as an articulate intellectual, and he's backed by "a fundraising juggernaut" (which no doubt keeps him on the radar screen of media outlets for whom money talks).  

But there are also indicators that key members of the religious right will not be on board with his attempt to rebrand himself as a "new Catholic."  The HuffPo article cites Jerry Luquire, head of the Georgia Christian Coalition, who says, "Newt Gingrich's election would send a terrible signal to anyone who's working to live a morally upright life.  I would find it very hard to vote for him."

This will be an interesting election to track closely.  And as I keep saying, most interesting of all will be watching the reaction of "traditionalist" Catholics who profess a strong commitment to traditional family values when it comes to their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but whose commitment to these traditional values often appears to be considerably more elastic when it comes to Mr. Gingrich and his three marriages.

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