This would involve an imaginative leadership maneuver. A Republican reformer cannot use religious conservatives as a foil. He or she will need to appeal to religious conviction as a motivation for reform. This is not as far-fetched as it might first seem. Catholics, of all political varieties, are hounded by a theological commitment to the common good. American evangelicals have had incarnations as abolitionists and prairie populists. A Republican candidate proposing prison reform, or improvements to the foster care system, or solutions to the dropout problem, could appeal to religious conservatives while making unexpected political outreach.
A few are trying. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., invokes Catholic themes when talking about the need to promote economic mobility. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has made a persistent religious case for immigration reform. “Our faith has always been about compassion and it compels you to do something,” he has argued. And he isn't just a voice in the wilderness. According to a recent survey, 56 percent of white evangelicals support a path to earned citizenship.
These instances, however, remain rare. Few GOP prospects are fighting to occupy this ground. But it is the creative response to the Republican reform dilemma to make religious conviction a source of outreach. And it might accomplish something Cameron has not: making the party's base a participant in the party's modernization.
Michael Gerson's email address is email@example.com.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP
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