"I know you can't endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you." Nothing solidified the alliance between evangelicals and the Republican Party so much as that 1980 comment from Ronald Reagan to 2,500 pastors.
"You can imagine what that did for caring, traditional-values people," James Robison, who organized the event, said later. "He endorsed us. It was a big impetus."
Reagan, who was divorced, did not attend church, and gave less than 1 percent of his income to charity, hardly delivered on any of evangelicals' expectations as president, William Martin noted in a CT article after Reagan died. "What Reagan did give evangelicals, in great abundance, was symbolic affirmation in the form of photo ops. For many, that was enough."
Evangelicals didn't care that Reagan wasn't like them. It was enough that he liked them.
The Democrats have figured out that liking religious conservatives brings more political benefits than disliking them. As Senator Barack Obama told Christianity Today in January, some Democrats hadn't wanted to be seen with evangelicals. "Part of my job in this campaign," he said, "was to make sure I was showing up and reaching out and sharing my faith experience." Obama actually quoted Reagan's "I endorse you" line.
Phone calls and meetings go a long way. In a recent telephone press conference, several evangelicals crowed about how interested the Democratic Platform Committee was in their opinion on abortion.
"The platform committee reached out to us deliberately," said Jim Wallis. "They were really seeking what evangelicals and Catholic leaders felt about this."
"There was a sense that both the policy people with the Obama campaign and the platform committee draft people took seriously and responsibly what Catholics ...1