Hardball with Chris Matthews, 4/1/13, 5:16 PM ET

The Republican civil war

Republican strategist Hogan Gidley and The Grio’s Joy Reid discuss the battle between the Republican Party establishment and social conservatives.

Are evangelicals going to divorce the GOP?


Evangelicals don’t believe in divorce. But when it comes to their deteriorating relationship with the GOP, they may be willing to make an exception.

From gay marriage to abortion, Republican leaders are considering far more progressive positions than their culturally conservative constituents would like. And now, right-wingers warn, that shift to the left may cost the Republican Party their evangelical base, who will likely  “take a walk” should the GOP continue its pivot on social issues, said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Newsmax TV.

“They’re treated like a cheap date,” said Huckabee in a separate interview of social conservatives’ value in the Republican Party. “Always good for the last-minute prom date, never good enough to marry.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, another conservative stalwart, echoed the sentiment in an interview with Politico saying, “Look, the Republican Party isn’t going to change…If we do change, we’ll be the Whig Party.”

Santorum earned a reputation as the most conservative of the 2012 presidential contenders by making far-right declarations–such as contraception “is not ok”–from which Republican leaders are now trying to distance themselves. But, as the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky points out, the religious right isn’t obligated to follow where the Republican Party leads; evangelicals could easily chose to walk away from politics altogether, deciding that “it was fun while it lasted, but that the fight is hopeless.”

Political adviser Hogan Gidley, who worked for both Santorum and Huckabee, said he believes the GOP establishment has been using social conservatives to get out the vote, but has so far not followed through on any of the promises made to that wing of the party. “Once we get there, and once we actually get somebody elected, nothing actually gets accomplished,” said Gidley on Hardball Monday. “I think we’re tossed aside, and now we’re left picking up the pieces saying, ‘Wait a minute, we were promised all these things, and we’re getting nothing for our investment.’”

The Grio’s Joy Reid agreed, saying that discarding Christian evangelicals–a group that by some estimates made up 50% of Republican primary voters–is simply “not an option.”

“It’s not as if they have nowhere to go,” she said on Hardball Monday. “They’re not going to vote Democratic, but they may not come out,” she added. “Evangelicals believe it wasn’t them who cost Mitt Romney the election, or John McCain the election. In their view of it, those two candidates didn’t talk about cultural conservative issues, and lost because evangelicals stayed home.”

If the Republican Party wants to keep its evangelical base, said Gidley, it’s going to have to prioritize social conservatism in its platform from now on, despite the winds of change that may be leading public opinion away. “The true, hardcore evangelicals in this party are going to stay focused on the social issues forever,” he said on Hardball Monday. “They will not deviate from those for anybody or anything, mostly because they believe that their reward is in eternity.”

Are evangelicals going to divorce the GOP?