Once upon a time, when the Contract with America beguiled a people tired of a Democratic-run Congress, Newt Gingrich and Grover were allies, bomb-throwing peas in a pod ready to achieve congressional power by any means necessary. They made common cause with religious conservatives because they needed ’em in their low-tax, small- government coalition.
Norquist is still pretty much where he’s always been, but as one of the shrewdest of conservative heads has come to the conclusion that religious conservatives are dragging the cause down. As Jacqui Salmon reports over on Ging:
Norquist said conservative Christian leaders are basically too
aggressive. They should be playing more defense and less offense, he
says, because they’re scaring the bejeezuz out of everyone who’s not in
The Christian right should adopt more of the attitude of “leave me
alone and let me raise my kids” and not “everybody agrees with me,
therefore you have to do what I say,” according to Norquist.
Newt, by contrast, has traveled the Damascus road, not merely converting the Roman Catholicism but taking up vintage 1980s religious right rhetoric and cranking it up a notch. Indeed, he went so far as to say the other day,
“The first job we have as Americans is to reach out to everybody in the country who is not yet saved and to help them understand the spiritual basis of a creator-endowed society.”
I’m not entirely sure that most of the people who usually talk this way would regard Newt, the Baptist-turned-Catholic, as among the saved, but never mind. The question is what he thinks he’s accomplishing with this kind of talk. I don’t underestimate Newt’s astuteness as a political agitator, but Norquist’s assessment does seem more grounded in current realities. If it’s the presidential bug that’s bitten Gingrich, then perhaps his idea is to make himself so thoroughly acceptable to religious conservatives that when it comes time to pivot toward his long-held economic convictions, he’ll have them, if not in his pocket, at least at his beck and call.