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Republican Presidential Contenders Make Faith And Family A Central Issue

Pew Research Center says that the number of Americans who consider themselves as religious has declined.
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President Joe Biden has talked about the battle for the soul of the nation. In fact, he gave such a speech about just that in September 2022, two months before the midterm elections, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to rebuke Donald Trump and his divisive politics.

“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” said Biden, a practicing Catholic at the time.

Nearly a year later, the leading Republican presidential candidates came together in Milwaukee for the chance to take on Biden in the November 2024 election.

What emerged from the eight candidates (Trump did not attend) on stage at the Fiserv Forum was often-heated a two-hour debate where they weren’t afraid to bring up faith and family as a reason why Biden’s America has been a failure. The Fox News debate was the first of the GOP primary season.

While the candidates vying for the White House agreed America is undergoing a crisis, they differed on exactly why. It set the stage for what will be a very interesting primary and one where issues surrounding faith and family won’t be ignored.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a son of Indian immigrants and a practicing Hindu, called it an identity crisis and that America is in a “dark moment.”

“We’re in the middle of a national identity crisis,” he added. “I say this as a member of my generation. The problem in our country right now, the reason we have that mental health epidemic, is that people are so hungry for purpose and meaning at a time when family, faith, patriotism, hard work have all disappeared. What we really need is a tonal reset from the top, saying that this is what it means to be an American.”

Republican Party Debate Stage. Republican Presidential Contenders Make Faith And Family A Central Issue. GAGE SKIDMORE VIA CREATIVE COMMONS.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who grew up Catholic and became an evangelical in college, disagreed.

“The American people,” said Pence while sounding very much like a preacher, “are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hardworking people the world has ever known.” 

These two views of America, seen through the lens of faith, is an interesting one. It is even more interesting given that the country has become more secular in recent decades. Pew Research Center said that the number of those who consider themselves as religious has declined.

Arguments over abortion bans

Sen. Tim Scott, who has often talked about his Christian faith on the campaign trail, pointed to abortion — a major issue for voters on both sides of the political aisle — as a major problem.

“We cannot let states like California, New York, Illinois have abortions on demand up until the day of birth,” he said. “That is immoral, it is unethical, it is wrong.”

In 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case which guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion. Some states, as Scott pointed out, have independently passed legislation protecting the right. While all eight candidates said they were “pro-life” – they differed on how they would legislate the issue.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the only woman on the stage, said she would “absolutely” sign a 15-week federal abortion ban in the hopes of attaining consensus from lawmakers. Haley grew up Hindu, but now identifies as a Christian.

But Pence, who supports a federal six-week ban, disagreed.   

“Consensus is the opposite of leadership,” he said.  

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would not say whether he would support a federal ban.

“I’m going to stand on the side of life. Look, I understand Wisconsin is going to do it different from Texas. I understand Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be different, but I will support the cause of life as governor and as president,” said DeSantis, who is Catholic and signed a six-week abortion ban in his state earlier this year.

Republican Party Debate Stage. Republican Presidential Contenders Make Faith And Family A Central Issue. GAGE SKIDMORE VIA CREATIVE COMMONS.

Winners and losers of the night

Pence earned praise for his actions during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and didn’t hold back on his rivals. In an attack on the 38-year-old Ramaswamy, Pence said, “Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a master of the debate stage and biggest anti-Trump candidate, also took a jab at Ramaswamy, a defender of Trump.

“I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT,” he said.

Ramaswamy, meanwhile, held his own throughout the evening. It could be a sign that the businessman will have some staying power in this race.

In the losers’ column, DeSantis and Scott struggled, while North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, two candidates near the bottom of most primary polls, failed to move the needle.

In all, it was the official start of what will be a fiery campaign season that will see its first results with the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 15. If this debate is any sign, expect continued talk and debate about faith and family to remain a central issue.

 Produced in association with Religion Unplugged

Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager

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