Interview: Ralph Reed Talks About Mobilizing Christian Right Voters and the Republican Civil War
The political mobilization of social conservative voters is far more extensive today than it was during the 1990s when the Christian Right helped the Republican Party take control of Congress, Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, told The Christian Post in a recent interview. Reed also spoke about new fundraising efforts among social conservative groups and the Republican "civil war."
"If anything, it is far more effective and significant today by a magnitude," he explained during the Jan. 20 interview.
One of the reasons, he said, is the availability of new technologies that enable the targeting of particular types of voters by campaign professionals. Some of the same technologies used to great effect by the Barack Obama campaign in 2012 are being used by FFC and other social conservative groups.
Reed was head of the Christian Coalition in the early to mid-1990s. Under Reed's leadership, the Christian Coalition helped mobilize social conservatives. This, in turn, helped Republicans take control of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections. FFC's mobilization abilities are far more advanced than the Christian Coalition of the 1990s, he explained.
"We now have consumer databases, micro-targeting data, online data, that allows you to identify people of faith and match them up with voter files on a scale that was unthinkable in the mid-90s when I was at the Christian Coalition," he said.
Using this technology, FFC has identified over 18 million households that include about 29 million social conservative voters. When he was at Christian Coalition, Reed recalled, the group only had about six million voters identified when they were at their peak of effectiveness.
Another reason Christian Right organizations can be more effective today, Reed added, is the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which clarified the degree to which social welfare organizations "can be political in nature, including advocating the election or defeat of a candidate."
Christian Right Fundraising
In December, Politico reported there was a meeting of social conservative groups that decided they needed to put a greater emphasis on fundraising. Reed said he was not at that meeting but a FFC representative attended.
Historically, the Christian Right has been better known for its ability to mobilize voters than raise money. Reed explained that is mostly true with one exception that he is aware of – President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. Reed was on that campaign team, which sought conservative evangelicals as part of its fundraising strategy.
"We had a strategy of reaching to the evangelical and faith communities whenever we went into a city for a fundraiser ... because of their affinity for Bush, we got an overwhelming response," he recalled.
"I don't know how much we raised," Reed added, "but it was a lot."
From that experience, Reed believes that fundraising among social conservatives is "an untapped area" for conservatives and the Republican Party. There are "an awful lot of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, entertainment [professionals], who are devout Christians," he said.
In modern political campaigns, Reed explained, fundraising and mobilization go together. Due to all the sophisticated new technologies, a competitive mobilization campaign costs a lot of money. So organizations that want to influence elections, either primary or general elections, need to be good at both mobilization and fundraising.
"I think the two are closely tied. In this day and era with billion dollar presidential campaigns, and you're looking at the kinds of intense grassroots registration, mobilization and get-out-the-vote effort that the Obama campaign ran in 2008 and 2012 with great success, and that we ran with great success in 2010, you simply can't undertake the kinds of voter registration and voter mobilization effort without significant financial resources," he said.
Reed also believes it matters how campaign money is spent. While Republicans have done a good job at raising money for advertisements, he added, they have not done as well at raising money for grassroots mobilization efforts.
"I don't think it's going to be possible to mobilize the tens of millions of voters that need to be turned out without having significant resources," he said. "And candidly, while conservatives have done a good job of raising funds to pay for media buys through organizations like Americans for Prosperity, the Romney super-PAC, and American Crossroads, they have not done as good a job as the Left in raising funds for grassroots activities, and that needs to be corrected."
The Republican Civil War
The infighting among Republicans and conservative groups has been much in the news recently. This battle is often described as one between "establishment" Republicans and "outside" or "Tea Party" groups. Less discussed is which side of that battle the Christian Right is on.
Reed suggested that social conservative groups have a leg in each camp. While they are generally more aligned with the outside groups, they maintain a better relationship with Republican leadership than many of those outside groups.
"I think, in the end," he said, social conservative groups are "probably more with the outside groups. But I think they're modus operandi is probably a little different, and they probably have a better relationship with Republican leadership on the Hill than some of the other outside groups do, largely because a lot of those leaders are strongly pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family."
Reed noted that those in House Republican leadership positions today, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner, were once the more rebellious newer members pressuring leadership. Many Christian Right groups supported them back then and supported their rise into leadership.
"When John Boehner was elected in 1990," Reed recalled, "remember that class of 1990, the so-called 'gang of seven' ... those guys were the bomb throwers and the sort of back benchers back then.
"Boehner, whatever criticism outside groups would level against him otherwise, has always been pro-life and has always gotten a perfect rating from pro-life and pro-family organizations. ... That doesn't mean we don't want to prod or push leadership to do more. You always want to do that. There's always going to be tension in that relationship. But I don't think that the relationship is as problematic as it is with some of the more libertarian or economic conservative groups."