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Romney and ‘Teavangelicals’: Gaining Trust with Conservative Voters

July 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Judy Woodruff interviews David Brody, chief political news correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network about what he calls a new hybrid: Tea Party libertarians who are "breaking bread" with conservative Christians.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a look at the connection between the Tea Party and evangelicals.

That’s the subject of a new book, “The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America.”

Written by David Brody, chief political news correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

I sat down with him recently to discuss his work and Mitt Romney’s relationship with evangelical leaders.

David Brody, welcome to the program.

DAVID BRODY, Christian Broadcasting Network: Judy, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we have heard of the Tea Party. We have heard of evangelicals. Who are the Teavangelicals?

DAVID BRODY: Well, it’s a hybrid.

These are conservative Christians that are breaking bread with Tea Party libertarians. A lot of folks hear the Tea Party movement, and they say, well, it’s just a bunch of libertarians out there that want constitutionally limited government.

Well, actually, I went around to these Tea Party rallies and found out that there were many conservative Christians in the ranks, and so came up with this word. I figured I could call them Tea Party Christians or Christian Tea Partiers, though I thought that was a little too radical.

So I went with Teavangelicals. And they’re breaking bread with Tea Party libertarians because they believe the fiscal issues are extremely important in this country, and it’s not just about the life and the marriage issues. There’s no chance here of them co-opting this movement at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So this idea that they’re two separate groups, you’re saying many — there’s more overlap than we thought. It’s not that they all overlap. It’s just that there’s more overlap than people realize.

DAVID BRODY: That’s right. That’s right, because really most social conservatives are fiscal conservatives.

And that’s one of the points I make in the book. And I — and just make sure that people understand that once again there is no chance here that the evangelicals, these Teavangelicals, want to co-opt the movement and make it all about the life issue and the marriage issue. It’s just not true.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How big a force are they in American politics?

DAVID BRODY: They’re huge. They’re the worker bees.

Right now, Ralph Reed’s group, one of the Teavangelical organizations I point out in the book, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, I mean, they have the cell phones and e-mails of 13 million Teavangelicals right now in this country. They didn’t have that in 2008. They actually have the cell phone numbers of these Teavangelical-type voters.

They’re contacting them, distributing voter guides, not in churches, Judy, but distributing them via text message. And what’s interesting here is that a lot of them may indeed pull that trigger, or that lever, if you will, for Romney in 2012. It’s a much different game here.

The question for the Teavangelicals out there is that they may have been not all that enthused about Mitt Romney in the GOP primary, but they will most likely vote for Romney. The question is, will they bring a friend and will they organize? And I think that’s the key. There’s a difference between support and enthusiastic support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s what I want to ask you about, because at one point in the book you write that Romney does not have — Gov. Romney doesn’t have the trust of conservative voters. Why is that?

DAVID BRODY: Well, there has been a history with Gov. Romney throughout the years, going back to the time that he ran against Ted Kennedy and he kind of positioned himself in a different way.

And so, you know, the evangelicals have had some issues with him over the past. But I have to tell you, just recently, there was a meeting with 60 to 70, roughly, conservative evangelical leaders who are now saying they’re all on board with Romney. This was an off-the-record meeting. They’re on board. But they all admit that the base necessarily isn’t all on board, and that’s the focus right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you a little bit about the history, because you do write in here about how during the primaries, the evangelical leaders, the Tea Party leaders tried to reach out to Romney. They invited him to events. He declined for the most part and sometimes didn’t even respond.

What exactly was the relationship there? How distant were they?

DAVID BRODY: Well, it was frosty in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, Peter Flaherty, who is one of his senior advisers and has been his chief of staff for a long time, has been reaching out to evangelical leaders for a long time.

As a matter of fact, in the book, I go into detail how Romney actually met with evangelical leaders as far back as 2006. They were all around a table in his hotel — excuse me — in his hotel — in his home in New Hampshire, with Ann Romney.

And I’m talking about Franklin Graham and the late Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer and Jay Sekulow, a lot of folks. What happened was, Judy, real quick, is that they all had sandwiches. They were all there. And then what happened, a month later, they were all sent a chair in the mail by Mitt Romney. And on the back of the chair was a plaque and it says, “You will always have a seat at my table.”

So this courting has been going on for quite a while.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying it was different in front of the camera?

DAVID BRODY: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He didn’t want to appear at some of the events they invited him to?

DAVID BRODY: That’s right, because it’s not in his comfort zone.

The truth is, you are not going to see Mitt Romney holding up a pro-life sign, like a Rick Santorum might be doing, at a pro-life rally. You’re not going to see that. He’s an economics guy. He’s a metrics guy, he’s a numbers guy. He plays it very close to the vest. He doesn’t show much emotion.

And these passionate social issues require emotion. And Romney’s not quite there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what do these leaders — you say there have been these outreach meetings that have started to take place. What are they asking Gov. Romney to do? And do you think he’s going to do — what do you think he’s — how far is he prepared to go?

DAVID BRODY: I think there are two things that they are asking for, and they’re really asking his advisers, who are relaying the message to Mitt Romney, though I believe they are going to have face-to-face time some time this fall.

One is a good vice presidential pick. That’s extremely important. The second one is a stump speech that in essence takes a page out of Rick Santorum’s playbook and is able to weave a pro-family message based on Judeo-Christian principles in this country, a lot of what we have heard before from the — quote — “religious right,” but not necessarily cloaked in religious right language, but more with the morality and the immorality of what’s going on from a fiscal standpoint in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there a sense that Romney is prepared to do that?

DAVID BRODY: I think so, especially as it relates to a V.P. pick.

I don’t think you’re going to see any surprises here with Gov. Romney with something that is going to let down this Teavangelical base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who are among those who are acceptable to the Teavangelicals as a running mate?

DAVID BRODY: Well, there’s a few that are out there that have been talked about. Tim Pawlenty would be one. That would be pretty acceptable. Bobby Jindal, more of a tier B guy, Mike Huckabee, tier B guy.

And when I say tier B, I’m talking about I don’t think he’s — I don’t think they’re all being seriously, as seriously vetted as maybe some others. Gov. Bob McDonnell from Virginia might be another one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also write, David Brody, about the role of Romney’s faith, the Mormon faith. And at one point, you even — you said the Mormon faith would — would clearly disqualify him from being a Teavangelical. Explain that.

DAVID BRODY: Mm-hmm.

Well, I just say it more on semantics than anything else, in the sense that obviously he’s not an evangelical Christian, though some people — and this is probably a separate panel here, Judy — some would say, well, he is a Christian. But we won’t go there right now. But he didn’t really play to the Teavangelical base.

That was my point in saying that. And because he didn’t play to the Teavangelical base, quite frankly, Judy, Mitt Romney was the luckiest guy in the world. They were all splitting — they, Santorum, Cain, Bachmann, all of them, they were all splitting the Teavangelical vote.

He coasted right along. And President Obama, he now has — Romney has — three-and-a-half years of President Obama, which has definitely helped these Teavangelical voters come to his aid. The question is, they may be 80 percent there, but are they going to get there? What about the last 20 percent?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the Mormon faith an ongoing issue for some of the evangelicals?

DAVID BRODY: There are certain — there are certain evangelicals that just won’t vote for a Mormon period.

Here’s the good news for Romney. And not to stereotype folks in the country, but the anti-Mormon sentiment may be a little bit more in the Southern part of the country, rather than in certain swing states, whether it be Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, whatever it happens to be. So is it a factor? Yes, but there’s an asterisk, and I don’t think ultimately it’s going to make the biggest difference in the world to him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brody, author of the new book “The Teavangelicals,” thank you very much. It’s good to have you back with us.

DAVID BRODY: Thanks, Judy. Pleasure to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So just how influential will evangelicals be this November? On our Web site, read what their prominent leaders say about Mitt Romney.

Also there, you can revisit a story about social conservatives in Pennsylvania. Plus, use our Vote 2012 Map Center to see where evangelical Protestants are clustered, many in the South and the Rust Belt. Explore that data and more maps showing voter demographics online.

And coming up soon on the NewsHour, Spencer Michels reports on a constituency on the Democratic side, voters who care about gay rights.