Billy Graham and the end of political consensus

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On the roster: Billy Graham and the end of political consensus - I’ll Tell You What: Something different? - Trump playing catchup on gun control amid outrage - Abbott plays hardball in Texas congressional primaries - Hey, mind your own ileum!

BILLY GRAHAM AND THE END OF POLITICAL CONSENSUS
The most important trend about religion in American politics of the past 30 years is commonly thought to be the ascendency of the Republican Evangelical voter. 

And based on the volume of news coverage and controversy, that would be a reasonable conclusion for one to reach. 

But the most significant trend today about faith in politics and politics in faith is its growing absence. The passing of Billy Graham, who did more to shape the modern understanding of American Protestantism in the 20th century than anyone else, has already occasioned many pieces about the shift from the days when Graham ministered to a bipartisan flock of national leaders to today when Evangelical leaders, like his son, are not just identifiably partisan, but also political advocates. 

And this is most certainly true. But without context, it sounds like that sometime in the 1990’s the Evangelicals just packed up their bags and moved over to the GOP. The truth is, as usual, more complicated. 

When Graham was counseling with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, it wasn’t a very useful conversation to talk about “American Christians.” The two terms would have been substantially redundant. 

In 1964, Gallup found that 93 percent of Americans professed faith in Jesus Christ. Only two percent dared say that they had no religion at all. 

We know that there were more nonbelievers than that back then, just as there were for all of the history of Christendom. But it did not pay to be a nonbeliever, especially when one could so easily and lightly ascribe to the anodyne mainstream Protestantism that dominated in mid-century America. Joel Osteen has nothing on Norman Vincent Peal when it came to preaching transactional faith. 

But there was room for the high-test stuff, too. Graham, who brought reform theology with a focus on salvation by grace to millions in stadiums and on television, had ready audiences in a culture where it paid to be on Team Jesus. 

Over the past 50 years, however, that calculus has changed gradually but unmistakably. 

Gallup now finds that 60 percent of Americans or so claim Christian faith. There has been next to no increase in the share of other major religions but an ongoing surge in the number of nonbelievers, now at least 20 percent of the nation. 

This shift has most obviously affected Democrats, who are home to the majority of what demographers call the “nones,” 54 percent as of 2014 according to Pew Research. This helps explain Democrats shift on social and cultural issues, but it also helps us understand what is happening with Republicans, too. 

Pew finds that mainline Protestants and Catholics are still relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Mainline Protestants may lean a little more Republican and Catholics lean more Democratic, and these differences are probably also reflective of other shared demographic traits than anything about doctrine. 

But consider this: The two largest demographic groups in American religion today are “nones” and Evangelical Protestants at 23 percent and 25 percent respectively. And they share an equally lopsided preference for their respective parties.

It would be too generous to the new breed of hyper-political Christian clergymen and clergy women on the right to say that they had no choice but to follow their congregants to the GOP, but it would not be entirely wrong. 

As Americans have sorted themselves into homogeneous political tribes, faith, or its lack, have been a crucial part of the discussion. Nonbelievers and Evangelicals look very much like mirror images of one another when it comes to our politics. And while we hear much more about outspoken Evangelicals, the power of believers among Democrats is not to be overlooked. 

In his career-shaping speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama put his faith forward as he talked about there being “no red America and no blue America.” When Obama said that Democrats “worship an awesome God” he was adopting the language of the religious right to seek common cause, and probably some votes. 

By the time Democrats got to Charlotte for their convention eight years later, even the inclusion of the name of God in the party platform was a matter of some controversy. 

One tends to doubt that the next Democratic president will worry even as much as Obama did about public displays of faith and the credible presence of Christian counsel in their lives. The next Democratic president may be an observant, pious Christian or not, but the political necessity of having a Graham-like figure around just isn’t there for Democrats the way it once was. They don’t need anyone to say grace over them anymore.

On the other side, Christian conservatives will hold increasing sway over Republicans. While Donald Trump’s biography doesn’t exactly read like the hero of a Jack Chick track, he has seated much of his agenda, starting with his vice presidential pick, to Graham’s heirs, both literal and figurative. 

If we follow this scenario out to its logical conclusion, we will have a Christian party and a party dominated by nonbelievers, a party for white Americans and a party for non-white Americans and two parties consumed by cultural warfare. This augurs well for neither Christians nor politics. 

It is easy to find fault with preachers and pastors who become partisans. Most of the movement in the West for the past 500 years has been toward keeping government out of religion and religion out of government, and each was considered better for it. But one can also understand the appeal for faith leaders to rally together against the larger trend in our society toward secularity and new atheistic moral codes.

As the price of discipleship has increased in a post-Christian world, it is understandable for disciples to seek protection by banding together. And it is also logical, if lamentable for many Christians, that this band would seek next to take the fight to their foes.   

In that way, we might better see Graham’s political presence as an anomaly made possible by the towering success of American main stream Christianity, not as a replicable model for the clergy of today.

THE RULEBOOK: WHATEVER WORKS
“It was long ago remarked by Grotius, that nothing but the hatred of his countrymen to the house of Austria kept them from being ruined by the vices of their constitution.” – Alexander Hamilton and James MadisonFederalist No. 20

TIME OUT: 70 YEARS OF LEFT TURNS
 
History: “On this day in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR, as it will come to be widely known–is officially incorporated. NASCAR racing will go on to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry. The driving force behind the establishment of NASCAR was William ‘Bill’ France Sr. (1909-1992), a mechanic and auto-repair shop owner from Washington, D.C., who in the mid-1930s moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. … After witnessing how racing rules could vary from event to event and how dishonest promoters could abscond with prize money, France felt there was a need for a governing body to sanction and promote racing. He gathered members of the racing community to discuss the idea, and NASCAR was born, with its official incorporation in February 1921. France served as NASCAR’s first president and played a key role in shaping its development in the sport’s early decades.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance
Average approval: 
38.8 percent
Average disapproval: 56.2 percent
Net score: -17.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 37% approve - 59% disapprove; Fox: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 35% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.8 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 1.2 points  
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 53% Dems - 38% GOP; Marist College: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss one of the reasons Americans have tended to grow numb to the horror of mass shootings is that the national discussion that follows takes such a predictable course. Could this time be different? Plus, a whirlwind look at midterms and your listener questions. 
LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

TRUMP PLAYING CATCHUP ON GUN CONTROL AMID OUTRAGE
Fox News: “President Trump on Tuesday directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft new regulations to ban firearm modifiers including the ‘bump stock’ used in the Las Vegas massacre, amid bipartisan calls to strengthen gun laws in the wake of recent shooting rampages. During an event at the White House, the president announced he signed a memo ordering the regulations on ‘bump stocks’ and told Sessions he wants new federal guidelines finalized ‘very soon.’ He also signaled support for additional changes to gun legislation, tweeting Tuesday evening, ‘Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!’ The memo, released by the White House on Tuesday, directs the DOJ to propose a rule ‘banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.’ Trump wrote in the memo, ‘Although the Obama administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock type devices were lawful to purchase and possess, I sought further clarification of the law restricting fully automatic machineguns.’”

Meets with students, gun control advocates - CNBC: “U.S. President Donald Trump, a strong supporter of gun rights, planned to meet on Wednesday with parents, students and teachers who have been victims of gun violence, including those affected by last week's school shooting in Florida. The White House meeting comes a day after Trump said his administration would take steps to ban bump stocks, an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute. … ‘When horrific tragedies like this happen, everybody wants a quick and a simple answer, but there isn't one,’ White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday. … Later this week, Trump will meet with local and state officials, and also plans to talk with governors about the issue.”

Florida shooting survivors mobilize to push ban on certain firearms - Reuters: “Dozens of teenaged survivors of the second-deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history marched on Florida’s capital on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to ban sales of assault rifles of the sort used to kill 17 students and educators last week. … Dressed in jeans and T-shirts and carrying signs with the slogan ‘#Neveragain,’ survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting met with lawmakers in Tallahassee, to ask for stricter controls on gun sales.”

Toomey seeks to revive background check bill - WaPo: “Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who once spearheaded an unsuccessful bipartisan agreement to strengthen gun laws, said Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that would expand background checks on firearm purchases, giving a jolt to gun-control efforts in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead and left scores injured. ‘It does feel like we have a shot at getting a little bit of momentum on background checks,’ Toomey said in an interview with The Washington Post… Toomey said the legislation he is readying is a revival of the measure that he introduced in 2013 along with Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), a moderate Democrat. That legislation, which expanded background checks to include unlicensed gun-show dealers and online sales, failed to move forward.”

ABBOTT PLAYS HARDBALL IN TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARIES
The Texas Tribune: “If the three House primary challengers Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed lose their races on March 6, it won't be for a lack of trying on the governor's part. Free of serious primary opposition in his re-election campaign and sitting on a staggering $43 million war chest, Abbott has made it his main political project in recent weeks to unseat three fellow Republicans in the House who ran afoul of him last year: state Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place, Wayne Faircloth of Galveston and Lyle Larson of San Antonio. His involvement in the races has spiked already this week, with him hitting the campaign trail for all three incumbents' opponents and going on TV in Larson's district — after previously dropping $161,000 on advertising in Davis' district.”

The complicated realities of Democrats’ Texas dreams - The Weekly Standard: “It’s also possible for Democrats to increase their margin with Hispanics and college-educated whites. Maybe in some upcoming election they’ll find a strategy that mobilizes more Latino voters and create the turnout jump that many on the left have dreamed of for years. Or maybe college-educated white Republicans who voted for Clinton will, over time, enter the Democratic mainstream and help them build a base. The point here isn’t to predict if or when Texas will turn blue. The point is to emphasize that new issues, unconventional candidates, changes within the parties, new social conditions and more can scramble straight-line demographic math. It’s simply difficult to forecast political change more than two to four years ahead of time—and that goes for Texas as much as any other state.”

Immigration hardliners warm to Cruz - WashTimes: “They aren’t calling him ‘Lyin’ Ted’ anymore. Sen. Ted Cruz’s stock is rising among members of President Trump’s base who feel double-crossed after the president offered amnesty to illegals in the immigration debate. Some who opposed Mr. Cruz in his 2016 run for the White House are even clamoring for the Texas Republican to mount a primary challenge to Mr. Trump in 2020. The newfound esteem for Mr. Cruz, whom Mr. Trump dubbed ‘Lyin’ Ted’ when they battled for the 2016 Republican nomination, is coming from people who were die-hard supporters of the president. ‘Ted Cruz has kept his word to the American citizens, and we are watching this very, very carefully,’ said Sue Payne, a conservative activist in Washington’s Maryland suburbs who in 2016 championed Mr. Trump and reviled Mr. Cruz.”

Dems notch yet another special election win deep in Trump country - The Hill: “Kentucky Democrats on Tuesday reclaimed a rural district in the state House of Representatives that went heavily for President Trump in 2016. Linda Belcher (D), a former state legislator who lost her seat in the Trump landslide in Kentucky, reclaimed the Bullitt County district by a more than 2-to-1 margin, defeating her GOP opponent Rebecca Johnson 68 percent to 32 percent. The Democrat had lost her seat in 2016 by just 150 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, even as Trump carried the district with 72 percent of the vote compared to Hillary Clinton's 23 percent. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also won the district in 2016 with 64 percent of the vote. Tuesday's special election in the state's House District 49 was held to replace former state Rep. Dan Johnson (R), who killed himself in December. Johnson, a pastor at a local church, had been accused of sexual abuse against a member of his congregation.”

Indiana Senate GOP debate gets testy - Indy Star: “Todd Rokita went after his opponents early and often. Luke Messer tried to stay ‘laser-focused’ on defeating U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. And Mike Braun tried repeatedly to paint the other two as career politicians who are part of the problem in Washington, D.C. After months of sniping from afar, the three Republicans vying for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat squared off Tuesday night in a 90-minute debate that featured plenty of appreciation for President Donald Trump, plenty of barbs for Donnelly, the Democrat they want to replace, and some testy exchanges on stage. … The debate, at Emmis Communications headquarters and broadcast on WIBC-FM, was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Indiana, the Hoosier affiliate of the advocacy group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers.”

Scott Walker picks sides in contentious West Virginia GOP Senate primary - Roll Call: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday endorsed West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in his bid for the GOP nomination for Senate. ‘Attorney General Morrisey’s strong, conservative record is exactly what West Virginia needs in its next senator,’ Walker said in a statement obtained first by Roll Call. … Morrisey said in a Tuesday statement he was honored to receive the governor’s backing. ‘His endorsement will excite the many conservatives across West Virginia and the nation who have rallied to our campaign,’ Morrisey said. Morrisey is up against GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins and former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. The primary is May 8.”

Former top Hillary aid makes late entry into California governor race - Politico: “Amanda Renteria, the former top Hillary Clinton campaign aide whose mysterious late entry into the California gubernatorial race befuddled political observers, said Tuesday she is seeking to change ‘the culture of politics’ and its fixation on money with her insurgent campaign. Distinguishing herself from two of several high-profile Democrats who have already raised millions of dollars for the contest — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — Renteria told POLITICO, ‘I’m very different than they are, right? Whether it’s the way I launched my campaign, whether it’s that I have been the girl doing the work.’”

Uihlein and Steyer emerge as early leaders in super PAC funding - WaPo: “Shipping magnate Richard Uihlein is among the leading individual donors in the cycle thus far, giving at least $17 million to the Republican National Committee and super PACs supporting Republican candidates, according to new Federal Election Commission filings Tuesday evening. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer poured $15.7 million to Democratic Party committees and to the super PAC arm of his nonprofit NextGen Climate Action, which supports progressive and liberal candidates and groups. Uihlein, chief executive of Wisconsin-based shipping company Uline, is on track to meet or exceed his 2016 political giving, which totaled $19 million, according to calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

EMBATTLED VA BOSS VOWS TO ROOT OUT ‘SUBVERSION’ 
Politico: “The White House has given Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin the green light to quash an internal rebellion among conservative foes of his leadership, he told POLITICO late Tuesday. The embattled Cabinet head said he’d begun investigating what he called ‘subversion’ at the agency, and those who have defied his authority ‘won’t be working in my operation.’ Shulkin’s new chief of staff, Peter O’Rourke, is meeting with each staffer suspected of defying Shulkin ‘individually and as a group to determine, now that there is a clear direction where we are going, where people are going to stand,’ he said. ‘Those who crossed the line in the past are going to have to be accountable for those decisions.’ Shulkin and the White House on Friday named O’Rourke, who previously led an accountability office at VA, to replace Vivieca Wright Simpson after she retired last week. An IG report accused her of falsifying an email to get the VA to pay for Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a trip to England and Denmark over the summer.”

GOP senators urge Trump to get back in the game on trade - WaPo: “Twenty-five Republican senators, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), sent President Trump a letter Friday asking him to ‘re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.’ It's the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to get Trump to take a softer stance on trade, even though his administration is gearing up to erect more trade barriers. Trump withdrew from the TPP in his first week in office after calling the trade deal a ‘disaster’ and a ‘rape of our country’ during his presidential campaign. ‘We encourage you to work aggressively to secure reforms that would allow the United States to join the agreement,’ the senators wrote. … There is a sharp divide between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration on how to handle trade.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Muller adds new few filings against Manafort, Gates - Politico

Kushner, Kelly feud shifts to Trump son-in-law’s clearance - NYT

Trump wants to pump up U.S. arms sales - WashTimes

North Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at Olympics, US says - Fox News

House Ethics Committee will investigate complaint against Rep. John Duncan Jr.Indy Star

AUDIBLE: YOU’D HATE TO THINK WHO THE RODMAN IS
“I’m the f---ing Michael Jordan of the New York State Senate.” – State Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, telling the New York Daily News to butt out of reporting on more than $32,000 in taxpayer cash he and his mother got to fix up their home. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I find interesting the extent to which people get upset about Russians planting false stories and otherwise engaging in slanderous political attacks. It’s not as though slanderous political attacks are anything new. From Adams and Jefferson exchanging charges of rape, adultery, incest, and hermaphroditical character (whatever that implies) to tossing to their death wheelchair bound seniors, anything the Russians may have posted on the Internet seems calm by comparison. Perhaps it’s just the thought that foreigners are meddling that sets people off.” – Pat Conroy, West Lake Hills, Texas

[Ed. note: I’m sure you know the one that goes, “You can’t say that about my brother! Only I can say that about my brother!” There are lots of things that we tolerate from our fellow citizens that we do not tolerate from foreign powers, especially hostile ones. You are quite right that there is lots that is wrong with American political discourse that is caused by Americans. But what we must not tolerate is allowing those who wish us ill, like Vladimir Putin, to exacerbate the situation. Not only are the consequences bad in real time, but it saps our confidence. You are right that we have said many terrible things to each other as Americans, up to and including a civil war, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore what the bad guys are doing to us.]

“Your run down on the US Senate Races (which I enjoy) for Michigan is incomplete. In the [Debbie Stabenow] Race, you’re missing Republican Sandy Pensler. He’s likely better funded, and more mature than [John James]. I’m waiting to see them debate, but right now my money is on Pensler. I can send a link to his webpage.” – Mike Chekal, Farmington Hills, Mich.

[Ed. note: Thank you very much for passing along some perspective from the ground in the Great Lakes State. And we thank everyone who wrote in with their thoughts on races in their own states. We will bear that in mind as the race evolves, as they all will. And we would encourage all of our readers to keep an eye out for developing trends in races coast to coast. We are really counting on you guys to be our eyes and ears this year.]

“I was going to unsubscribe because I have 15k emails, but then I took the time to read 2/19's report - all too good - can't unsubscribe. … What an insight into the mind of GW after all he had been through in those particular 40 years!  Thank you so much for enlightening us! I'm 77, but my love of American history has never waned so I really appreciate The Rulebook and Time Out.” – Marcia Howard, Denver

[Ed. note: Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Ms. Howard. We know that our little piece of real estate in our readers’ inboxes is precious, and we try to be respectful of that. You made my day with this one.]

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HEY, MIND YOUR OWN ILEUM! 
WLTX: “Pull them up! South Carolina lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill to ban saggy pants throughout the state. House Bill 4957 would make it illegal for a person to expose their skin or underwear by wearing their pants ‘three inches below the crest of his ileum’ —the top of the hips. Violation fines equal just enough to buy that much needed belt: $25 for a first offense; $50 or three hours of community service for a second offense; and $75 or six hours of community service for a third or subsequent offense. Violations wouldn't be considered criminal or delinquent, or put state college or university financial assistance at risk. Three Midlands lawmakers co-sponsored the bill: Jimmy Bales (D-Richland), Richard Martin (R-Newberry) and Russell Ott (D-Calhoun).”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.