My daughter-in-law’s father used to be a hard core union Democrat.  But five or six years ago, he changed jobs, and when he was no longer in a union, he let his Southern Baptist, Texas upbringing come to the fore.  Now he’s a Fox News, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion hard core Republican.  He and I have had a few good natured arguments about politics.  In fact, he assured me, in the summer of 2005, that the Democrats would never win another election.  (I graciously didn’t remind him of that at Thanksgiving dinner last year.)

I thought of Jim when I saw these two headlines this morning:

Christian Conservatives Lose Focus, Clout in GOP

Republicans’ Deepening Slide in Congress Stirs Gloom–and Jokes

The article traces the signs of the fading influence of fundamentalism in the GOP, but it hazards few guesses as to the cause.  Here are some possibilities.

Duped by Bush’s appeal to them as one of themselves, social conservatives gave George the electoral edge to win and to shovel trainloads upon trainloads of cash to his super wealthy base.  Then the consequences of Republican malfeasance began to be noticed:  endless war in Iraq and almost fifty million Americans without health care head the list.  A noticeable portion of the evangelicals are disillusioned with how Republicans have misused their power. 

Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party has suffered at their hands as well.  Terry Schiavo was a watershed moment.  Social conservatives overplayed their hand so badly two and a half years ago, that they did long term damage to the Republicans.  While the nation looked on openmouthed at their extreme views, they soldiered on, damaging the far right Christian brand in the public mind.  And despite their commitment to their goals, they haven’t gotten what they wanted.  Many are disillusioned at not having achieved their goals of banning abortion and gay marriage nationwide.  They are splintered.

They are splintered and ripe for a change of direction.  The leaders of the old order have faded.  Falwell is dead.  And while most evangelicals managed not to notice that Pat Robertson was buddy buddy with the bloody dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor, it was impossible to overlook the way Ralph Reed duped them.  Reed secretly took millions from casino interests in Louisiana with a promise to convince fundamentalists to fight legislation allowing new casinos there. When it came out who was paying Reed, that revelation was the death blow to the Christian Coalition.

The debacle of their years of influence reminds me of the witch hunts of Salem.  Those extreme, unreasoning years ran their course and people foreswore trying witches.  This era may well, also, have passed its glory days.  Now, the singleminded determination of evangelicals to own the government has been … perhaps not crushed … but bruised, badly bruised.  It’s left an opening for leaders like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, who take little interest in political power and who are focusing instead on the issues Jesus would have noticed:  AIDS, poverty, and illiteracy.

I won’t know the era’s really over, though, until Jim abandons the Republicans.  And the Missouri legislature is once more in the hands of Democrats.