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GOPer Confesses: Republicans Have Gone 'Nuts' With Religious Fundamentalism

After nearly three decades on Capitol Hill, Mike Lofgren quit last year after the Tea Party caucus pushed his party to new extremes.

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JH: You’ve been in the Congress until very recently. At least in the current Congress, isn’t the greater divide between the unyielding zealotry of the Tea Party wing and the traditional pro-business Republican establishment? I guess another way to put it is that the conventional wisdom is that John Boehner would really like to cut a “grand bargain” with Obama and the Democrats -- or at least be able to negotiate some of these budget impasses -- but he can’t because he can’t muster the votes within his own party. Is that your view?

ML: That is exactly my view based on what I’ve seen. I do think he wants to cut a deal because at the end of the day the point of government is to govern. However, he has this Tea Party caucus that’s pretty intransigent and he has this majority leader, Eric Cantor, who I’ve noticed on a number of occasions, once Boehner had spoken, would subtly undercut him.

JH: We’ve always had a lot of religious fundamentalists in this country, but until the Reagan years they were kind of on the margins of our political life, weren’t they? Many evangelicals believed they shouldn’t even bother with such temporal matters as politics. How did they emerge as a driving force within the Republican party? I know that they were a counterpart to the unions, as far as the party's ground game was concerned. They walked precincts, turned out to vote and drove seniors to the polls.

ML: I think it’s a synergistic process. To some degree, people like Falwell took the religious right and brought it towards the Republican party. On the other hand, Republican operatives actively recruited them to the Republican party. I think by 1988 in the Iowa presidential caucus -- when we saw Pat Robertson’s very strong showing – there was an indication that the whole process was being cemented together.

JH: One of the interesting things about the transformation of Republican politics over the past 30 years or so is that while the religious right was emerging as this driving force, so too was what you refer to as “the cult of Ayn Rand.” Rand, of course, was the second-rate novelist whose philosophy stressed that the world was divided between “moochers” and “producers,” and the former bring us all down by leeching off the wealthy. Isn’t this something of a contradiction, given than Rand was a militant atheist who absolutely despised Christianity?

ML: It is absolutely the case, and it strikes me as a premiere example of double-think that there are so many operatives and elected Republican officials who can claim to the faithful what good, practicing Christians they are -- but also say they are of strong adherents of Ayn Rand. She had contempt for Christianity. It was nothing more than a religion for weaklings in her view. Somehow this bounces off the consciousness of most of the Republican faithful. This is an enormous contradiction that they would be extolling this atheist materialism.

JH: There was a recent study of public attitudes done by the Pew Research Center which I think is related to the Ayn Rand point. It found that in 1987, 62 percent of Republicans said, “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves.” That number has now dropped to 40 percent.

This seems like a monumental, tectonic shift to me. I think about the Republican debate last fall in which one of the moderators asked the candidates if someone gets cancer, and doesn’t have health insurance and can’t afford to get covered in a high-risk pool, should he just be allowed to die. A fair number of people in the audience screamed, “let him die.”

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