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RNC boosts evangelical outreach

Chad Connelly in 2011
Chad Connelly in 2011Drew Johnson/Flickr

In the wake of the party's election setbacks last year, the Republican National Committee has focused on outreach to a variety of constituencies that have been turning towards Democrats: Latinos, African Americans, younger voters, women, etc.

But it's against this backdrop that we also see the RNC boosting its outreach efforts to a group of voters that ostensibly represents the party's existing base.

The Republican National Committee has brought on a director of evangelical outreach to massage the party's complicated relationship with religious conservatives, GOP sources told CNN on Saturday.

The party organization has hired Chad Connelly, a consultant and motivational speaker who, until this weekend, was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Connelly resigned from that job Saturday and informed members of the state party's executive committee that he will be taking a job at the RNC.... Connelly, a Baptist, has told multiple South Carolina Republicans that he will be steering the national party's outreach to faith-based groups.

There are two broad questions to consider. The first is, who's Chad Connelly? The Republican is far better known for his work leading the South Carolina GOP than engaging in faith-based activism. Upon taking over the state party two years ago, Connelly vowed to become President Obama's "worst nightmare," and then largely faded from the national scene.

That said, Connelly wrote an 80-page book in 2002, called "Freedom Tide," which made a series of ridiculous claims about the United States being founded as a "Christian nation." The book was panned for its inaccuracies and wasn't exactly a best-seller

But the other question is, why in the world would the Republican National Committee have to focus on evangelical outreach right now?

The answer, I suspect, has something to do with the fact that the religious right movement isn't nearly as pleased with its RNC allies as one might assume. As we discussed in April, many of the movement's most prominent leaders and activists publicly threatened to abandon the Republican Party altogether unless it continues to push -- enthusiastically -- a far-right culture war agenda.

The threats coincided with a call from Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, that social conservatives stop contributing to the RNC until the party starts "defending core principles."

That might help explain why the RNC hired Connelly, but as we talked about at the time, it's not at all clear what more the religious right community seriously expects of the party.

After all, Republican policymakers are banning abortion and targeting reproductive rights at a breathtaking clip, pursuing official state religions, eliminating sex-ed, going after Planned Parenthood, and restricting contraception. Heck, we even have a state A.G. and gubernatorial candidate fighting to protect an anti-sodomy law.

What's more, folks like Reince Priebus are condemning Planned Parenthood and "infanticide," while Paul Ryan is speaking to right-wing groups about a future in which abortion rights are "outlawed."

And social conservatives are outraged that Republicans haven't pushed the culture war enough? Why, because the RNC hasn't officially declared its support for a theocracy yet?

Presumably, it's now up to Connelly to help make this clearer to the party's evangelical base.