How has his presidency altered the political landscape?

At an age when most people contemplate retirement, Ronald Reagan was entering presidential primaries. It was 1976—the “year of the evangelical”—and he was 65. Jimmy Carter, a born-again Baptist, won the presidency that year by appealing to values that ran much deeper than political issues. Carter promised a government as good as the American people; he said he would restore confidence, competency, and honesty to government.

Four years later, Reagan tapped into a similar set of American voting instincts with a bolder appeal to specific religiosity. “I endorse you,” he told politically conservative Christians in Dallas, viewing them as a tailor-made constituency. He assured evangelical leaders that he would appoint Christians to office. Reagan offered conservative populism wedded, in the words of columnist William Safire, to traditional “momulism”—the profamily values that Christians have seen deteriorate. Now, with his first term nearly finished, it is time to ask what impact Reagan has had on the issues so important to evangelical Christians.

On specifics, Reagan is likely to come up short, since many campaign promises that put him in office remain unfulfilled, including school prayer and antiabortion legislation, while concern over his handling of welfare issues and national defense has deepened. But in ways that cannot be precisely measured, Reagan’s presence in the White House may produce some long-term benefits for the nation. His rhetoric, with its God-centered world view, helps counteract the rampant secularism that would shove religion to the margins of life. In Washington, D.C., Christians in government are making decisions based on their faith. That development ...

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