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Ralph Reed is Back, Hoping to Harness the Energy of the Tea Party Movement

Ralph Reed hopes to bury his past by bringing together the two most energetic right-wing movements: the Tea Party and the religious right.

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Reed's dalliance with the "march toward socialism" paranoia harkens to the early days of the religious right, when it found common cause with the hardcore anti-communist right flank of the conservative movement. As Huckabee, who worked as Robison's communications director in the 1970s, recalled in his 2008 book, Do The Right Thing, Robison organized the seminal 1979 rally where conservative leaders like Paul Weyrich and Howard Phillips "recognized the untapped civic power sitting in pews of churches and synagogues each week and set about to mobilize the sleeping giant of people of faith into a force to be reckoned with."

When he supported Reagan, Robison wrote last year, the enemy was communism. Today, he maintained, "we face a similar threat, but one more crafty and subtle. We cannot see the danger for two primary reasons: first, we have lost our sense of right and wrong and, second, the enemy lies within." To Reed, he fretted, "I think we're racing toward Marxism, I've got to be honest with you. I think this government is consuming the productivity of the nation and doling it out."

In Reed's parlance, government is the evil that meddles with the freedom of God-fearing Americans, even in their religion. "I don't want the same government that can't run the Cash for Clunkers program to be running the church," he told Robison, though it's unclear which government effort he's referring to. "So the purpose is not to protect government from faith. That's not what the founders believed; that was never the objective. The purpose was to protect the church from bureaucrats."

Reed went on to claim that not running the country on a Judeo-Christian moral code is actually contrary to democracy. "So really, when you really get right down to it, James," he said, "democracy doesn't really work at all unless there is a citizenry animated by a moral code that derives from their faith in God. That's what makes the whole thing work because otherwise, the government has to tell everybody what to do." After offering his view on taxes, he concluded, "we start crushing that, we crush more than just the greatest economy in the world, we crush the entrepreneurial and liberty-loving freedom of the American people to go out there and pursue their dreams as high and as far as they can carry them."

Reed Re-enters a Crowded and Ambivalent Evangelical World

It was Reed's overly zealous entrepreneurial spirit -- to put it charitably -- that led to his key role in the Abramoff scandal. Although he crashed and burned in his first public effort after the scandal, evangelical activists are loathe to disparage him, a reluctance evident even as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation laid bare his schemes with the lobbyist. In 2005, the evangelical magazine World came under fire after it published an article about Reed that concluded, "the portrait that emerges is one of a shrewd businessman who has spent years leveraging his evangelical and conservative contacts to promote the economic interests of his clients, rather than the principles of the political movement he once led."

After the piece appeared, Focus on the Family executive Tom Minnery complained on the radio that the magazine's reporter, Jamie Dean, "wanted me to dump on Ralph Reed for his involvement with Jack Abramoff." Minnery had declined to respond to Dean's requests for comment on Reed's role in double-crossing anti-gambling evangelicals in order to benefit Abramoff's tribal gambling clients. Marvin Olasky, World's editor, defended the magazine's practice of journalism, noting that the focus should not be on Dean doing a reporter's job, but "on one person who has shamed the evangelical community: Ralph Reed."