Mitt Romney won the Republican primary without the help of evangelical leaders -- in fact, he won despite hundreds of evangelical leaders actively working together to stop him. But these social conservative leaders still feel they're in a position to make demands, despite the fact that in most of the states where Christian conservatives are the most powerful, Romney is going to win easily, and among suburban swing voters, their issues are less popular.
Take, for example, South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, an evangelical, who hasn't even endorsed the all-but-certain presidential nominee of his party. "It’s going to take some time for us to lay the groundwork and clarify his stances on issues, but I think [Romney’s] headed in the right direction," Scott told Politico's Anna Palmer. Likewise, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said, "Barring something exceptional, a Republican candidate cannot win without the enthusiastic support of evangelicals… He better ramp that up exponentially if he wants to win this thing." The stuff these guys want Romney to do might win him more fans among evangelicals, but they would turn off everybody else.
What exactly do they want? Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell tells Politico that Romney "can’t ride the desire to get rid of President Obama. That is not enough." But what else is there? Last week, Fischer made a list of demands in an essay fueled by anger that Romney had the gall to hire a person who is gay as his foreign policy spokesman. One demand was that the candidate come out in favor of reinstating Don't Ask Don't Tell, the military gay ban that was repealed with overwhelming public support. Another was a request that Romney support the proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The marriage amendment is a rarity this year -- Palmer reports that unlike in 2004, there won't be similar mesures to turn out voters in Ohio and Florida.
And Romney is probably lucky for that! In the last eight years, American attitudes about gay marriage have almost reversed. Earlier this week, Pew Research Center found Americans support gay marriage by 47 percent to 43 percent who oppose it. Just eight years ago, only 31 percent supported gay marriage and 60 percent opposed it. (Even among white evangelicals there has been a 6 percentage point drop in opposition to it.) One of the groups Romney is targeting is moderate, upscale white women -- and Pew finds that only 38 percent of independent women oppose gay marriage. Evangelical leaders might not yet be able to accept the reality that Americans have changed on this issue, but it's telling that another group can: North Carolina Republicans. NPR's Jessica Jones reports that several prominent conservatives in the state are publicly denouncing the amendment for being "too extreme."