January 6, 2012
Joe Carter is one of the most articulate evangelical voices on the intersection of church, culture, and politics. Joe founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tr
ibune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and
The first thing that should be said about the conservative movement is that there is no conservative “movement.” The term movement implies that a there is cohesive group that is in agreement about moving toward specific political goals. While individuals aligned with conservatism tend to agree on a general set of principles, they often have radically differing views on where those lead. For example, social conservatives and libertarians are generally lumped together under the rubric of the “conservative movement, yet both groups differ on issues such as same-sex marriage.
The reality is that conservatism is comprised of numerous small movements, some that are flourishing and others that are stagnating. This inevitably leads to internal tensions since established conservative groups, politicians, and media are all fighting for the same attention and donor funding. When specific grassroots sub-movements begins to gain popularity, activists of all stripes try to co-opt it for their own purposes.
A prime example is the Tea Party movement in 2008-2010. Despite the fact that polls and surveys showed that it was largely a subset of the “religious right” movement, libertarians tried to claim it as their own. The media latched onto that spurious impression and tried to create a narrative that conservatives were ready to abandon social issues. Of course that was never true. Most grassroots conservatives are full-spectrum conservatives who don’t make sharp distinction between economic, social, and national security conservatism. This is why I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects about conservatism, despite the problems within the “movement.”