updated 4/2/2013 12:50:56 PM ET 2013-04-02T16:50:56

Politics be damned! Christian conservatives have had it with being blamed for Republican losses--and now they're fighting back.

Evangelicals don’t believe in divorce. But when it comes to their deteriorating relationship with the GOP, they may be willing to make an exception.

From gay marriage to abortion, Republican leaders are considering far more progressive positions than their culturally conservative constituents would like. And now, right-wingers warn, that shift to the left may cost the Republican Party their evangelical base, who will likely  “take a walk” should the GOP continue its pivot on social issues, said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Newsmax TV.

“They’re treated like a cheap date,” said Huckabee in a separate interview of social conservatives’ value in the Republican Party. “Always good for the last-minute prom date, never good enough to marry.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, another conservative stalwart, echoed the sentiment in an interview with Politico saying, “Look, the Republican Party isn’t going to change…If we do change, we’ll be the Whig Party.”

Santorum earned a reputation as the most conservative of the 2012 presidential contenders by making far-right declarations–such as contraception “is not ok”–from which Republican leaders are now trying to distance themselves. But, as the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky points out, the religious right isn’t obligated to follow where the Republican Party leads; evangelicals could easily chose to walk away from politics altogether, deciding that “it was fun while it lasted, but that the fight is hopeless.”

Political adviser Hogan Gidley, who worked for both Santorum and Huckabee, said he believes the GOP establishment has been using social conservatives to get out the vote, but has so far not followed through on any of the promises made to that wing of the party. “Once we get there, and once we actually get somebody elected, nothing actually gets accomplished,” said Gidley on Hardball Monday. “I think we’re tossed aside, and now we’re left picking up the pieces saying, ‘Wait a minute, we were promised all these things, and we’re getting nothing for our investment.’”

The Grio’s Joy Reid agreed, saying that discarding Christian evangelicals–a group that by some estimates made up 50% of Republican primary voters–is simply “not an option.”

“It’s not as if they have nowhere to go,” she said on Hardball Monday. “They’re not going to vote Democratic, but they may not come out,” she added. “Evangelicals believe it wasn’t them who cost Mitt Romney the election, or John McCain the election. In their view of it, those two candidates didn’t talk about cultural conservative issues, and lost because evangelicals stayed home.”

If the Republican Party wants to keep its evangelical base, said Gidley, it’s going to have to prioritize social conservatism in its platform from now on, despite the winds of change that may be leading public opinion away. “The true, hardcore evangelicals in this party are going to stay focused on the social issues forever,” he said on Hardball Monday. “They will not deviate from those for anybody or anything, mostly because they believe that their reward is in eternity.”

Video: The Republican civil war

  1. Closed captioning of: The Republican civil war

    welcome back to "hardball." social conservative wing of the republican party is not about to roll over and be ignored. as "politico" reports today they're sick and tired of gop autopsies that point the finger of blame for 2012 losses at them. anyway, culture conservativists like rick santorum and mike huckabee intend to stand firm on social conservative ground. that ground is pretty far to the right. remember rick santorum 's comments about continraception when he was running for president?

    >> one of the things i will talk about no president has talked about before the dangers of contraception in this country. the whole sexual idea, many in the christian faith have said, that's okay, contraception is okay, it's not okay.

    >> meanwhile, you have jeb bush at this year's cpac trying to temper the party's image.

    >> all too often we're associated with being anti everything. way too many people believe republicans are anti immigrant, anti woman, anti-science, anti-gay anti-worker and the list goes on and on and on.

    >> the republican party establishment and social conservatives are girding for a battle between themselves. joy reid, managing editor of the grio. thank you for joining us. hogan, i don't want to start a fight here, but i think there's one brewing her. mike huckabee expressing frustration evangelicals have with the regular republican party . they've treated us, i guess, like a cheap date. always good for the last-minute prom date. never good enough to marry." those of us who remember high school , men and women both, that's language, a cheap date, late call for a prom. is that the way social conservatives feel about the republican establishment?

    >> i think so. look, i think for years now they've used that wing of the party, i guess, i'll include myself in that group, to go out and get support, get out the vote, turn out for those social issues. going so far to put gay marriage on the ballot in many states as karl rove so famously did that helped propel george w. bush to presidency. once we get there and once we actually get somebody elected, nothing actually gets accomplished and i think we're tossed aside and now we're left picking up the pieces saying, wait a minute, we were promised all these things and we're getting nothing for our investment. mike huckabee is one of those guys who has been on that side of the social issue for a long time. he's a former pastor. rick santorum the same way. not a former pastor, but his views on the social issue have been well established. he wasn't afraid to address them. sometimes to his detriment, me being the spokesperson for that campaign, of course. it's where he stood on those issues. someone like mitt romney refused to address them, had a pretty good story to tell on social issues but refused to address them because he wanted to run the campaign on the fiscal issues. he left the conservatives who are focused on social issues on the sidelines, thus they didn't come out and support him like they should have.

    >> let me go over to joy. it seems to me -- it reminds me of the movie "fatal attraction" where the woman said, who was having the affair with michael douglas , i will not be ignored. you're not going to ignore the fact you've been entangled with me. don't pretend to have a relationship with me and dump me on monday morning.

    >> george w. bush was elected and re-elected in part on a promise he was going to enact a lot of things social conservativeses dearly wanted. you could say karl rove really did use that base to come out for him in '04 when his election was not as sure, let's just say. one of the things that george w. bush telegraphed he would do for evangelicals was a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage . he would move action on federal bans on abortion. that he would assemble a supreme court that would overturn roe v. wade . they got nothing for it with a president who probably identified more with them --

    >> they got the iraq war .

    >> that's not what he ran on.

    >> he played to the very right wing feelings of evangelicals about israel, didn't he?

    >> that's right. evangelicals were some of the most supportive, even of policies like the detention policy, what we consider the torture policy. evangelicals stuck with george w. bush until the bitter end, got nothing for it.

    >> they got a war for it. they wanted that war.

    >> they didn't get the social issues they thought they were going to get moving forward on abortion and gay marriage .

    >> i think that's true. hogan, here's the story. i remember when ronald reagan was president and remember every time they had the right to life rally in washington, you may well have attending. he would address them by public address , electronics. hook up some sort of speaker system from the white house . that always carried with me a metaph metaphor. i'm with you sort of, but i'm not really one of you.

    >> right, look, rick santorum issued an e-mail in support of mitt romney at 1:00 in the morning. i mean, it goes to show you while he wasn't supportive of that, he was giving lip service from a distance. he wasn't in the fight. that's the thing. we have to be in these fights daily as the social conservatives . we expect once we've been promised something to get something for it in return. but look, these social issues, i think, are important. we've got some problems here with a lot of the african-american community, but also with the hispanic community. these issues can be used as hooks to get into these communities and actually have conversation about policy. the problem is republicans are so far off or have been so far off on immigration reform , on some of the social safety nets that we can't even get into the door to have a conversation about the ways we're similar. instead, we're saddled with the ways we're different. that's been a huge problem for us in the last two presidential election cycles.

    >> isn't it the culture right that really has a problem with legalizing people who came here illegally, if you will? aren't they the most bo sieve rouse in opposing legalization of people who came here from across the border?

    >> i don't think so. i think the people on the right are focused on the law. we don't want people to be rewarded for breaking the law .

    >> that's what i just said.

    >> i'm sorry?

    >> that's what i just said. they don't want to give these people legality if they came here illegally.

    >> no, no, they're not against legality, chris. they're against legality without penalty.

    >> oh.

    >> they've already broken the law. you can't just let them be citizens. make them go to the back of the line, make them pay the penalty. we should welcome everybody. that's the tenet of christianity, for heaven's sakes.

    >> chris, as you just said, there's a cross current between the evangelical right, the tea party , wings that have opposed immigration reform . the most hardline elements of the party. it swims in the same stream. evangelical christians with by some estimates 50% of republican primary voters. to the extent the party looks extreme, a lot of that is due to this base that comes a lot from the christian right. discarding these folks is not an option. i mean, years ago i interviewed matthew staber of the liberty council. he said, look, we're at the republican party as long as they're with us. we have an option which is to stay home. it's not as if they have nowhere to go. they're not going to vote democratic. they may not come out. evangelicals do believe it wasn't them who cost mitt romney the election or john mccain the election. in their view of it, those two candidates didn't talk about culture conservative issues and lost because evangelicals stay home. republicans do have some risk.

    >> hogan, i don't know if you picked a horse yet, i hope you do because we'd like to have you on to talk about it. who do you think could win the republican nomination with a culturally conservative view, not a libertarian view, but believes we ought to be doing something, restricting abortions, to basically fight history, if you will, on the same-sex marriage front and deal on the issues that are trickery socially. do you think someone like that who's willing to hold the line on the cultural right could be the nominee? who would it be?

    >> that's a great question. i'm not sure yet. joy brought up a great point. 50% of voters are the most conservative, at least that's what we think. for the last two cycles we put forth moderate candidates, and i think one of the issues here is in that piece that jonathan martin wrote in "politico" which was great, by the way, was the term "self-identified evangelical." yeah, i'm a self-identified billionaire. it doesn't make it so. the true hardcore evangelicals in this party are going to stay focused on the social issues forever, and they will not deviate from those for anybody or anything and mostly because they believe that their reward is in eternity. losing elections because they don't care about winning elections. they care about the long-term goal.

    >> i think what hogan just said hits on a point. fact that people in the evangelical right think john mccain and mitt romney are moderates is part of the problem, too. that pew research poll showed the base of the republican party is cleaving away from the rest of the country. on a lot of cultural and social issues, they are staying hard and fast in their positions but the country is moving away from them.

    >> it's easier to decide between the two parties than it's ever been in my life, by the way. you sit down, decide which party you're in today, it's easy to decide which one you're in now. these issues are really pulver v pulverizing.

    >>> the right wing is making the desperate case now, some people are, that president obama has a pastor problem again. they've said that before. who else but rush limbaugh is the leader of the attack squad? there he is bouncing. i love that bounce. what is he doing? this is "hardball,". the place for politics.


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