It’s been an inspired couple of months for Texas conservatives. Gov. Rick Perry launched his national book tour by asserting his right to secede from Social Security; a state representative introduced a bill demanding that President Obama release his birth certificate; another state rep squatted in the capitol for two days and two nights to introduce immigration reform. Oh, and this photo happened. And now, after a historic landslide at the polls last month, Republican activists have taken aim at one of their own: House speaker Joe Straus. Straus is a moderate. He’s also Jewish. Maybe you can see where this is headed.
Here’s what John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, told the Texas Observer:
“I want to make sure that a person I’m supporting is going to have my values. It’s not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right…I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They’re the people that do the best jobs over all…”
Cook said his opposition was not about Straus’ religion, although he prefers Christian candidates.
“They’re some of my best friends,” he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. “I’m not bigoted at all; I’m not racist.”
Cook’s something of a loon, as evidenced by his fantastically oblivious “some of my best friends” defense. But all of the cries of anti-Semitism do sort of seem to be glossing over one very obvious thing: Conservative Christian political activists generally think that being a conservative Christian makes you better qualified to hold public office. That’s sort of the point.
To be clear, there’s pretty compelling evidence that at least some of Straus’ opponents have focused on his Judaism. But if he were a social-justice Catholic, or a moderate main-liner, or a progressive evangelical, he would still face a pretty intense push from conservative activists arguing that he is not a true Christian, or at least not a true conservative Christian. This has been a theme in just about every major contested election for the last few decades, and it’s a sentiment that’s well entrenched in the conservative movement. That he is literally not a Christian in this case is just a technicality.
One of Straus’s most high-profile opponents has been David Barton, founder of Wallbuilders, an organization dedicated to advancing the notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Sound familiar? if you subscribe to the idea that America is an exceptional nation, borne out of a divine set of principles and established by a core of devoutly Christian Founding Fathers, blessed by God at every critical juncture in its history (save for this one, perhaps), you’d be nuts not to want to stock the government with people who share your views.
Now that GOPers have a 99-51 majority, they want someone who can push through a more Tea Party-friendly agenda—like a voter ID law and immigration reform. They’d also prefer to have a speaker who’s a bit more outspoken on social issues. Straus has taken heat for receiving a 100 rating from NARAL, and for voting against a law to ban gay couples from becoming foster parents. The central issue here—and the most relevant one going forward—is that Straus, despite being a Texas Republican, is really not as conservative as you might expect a Texas Republican to be.
Update: I should add that, even with the body’s dramatic rightward shift, it’s looking like Straus is going to prevail pretty handily.