JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Between the Supreme Court handing down decisions against abortion rights and in favor of public prayer, and rising stars on the right taking on the progressive politics of corporate America, social conservatives are having a big moment. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis recently sat down for a lunch with one of the leaders of the conservative evangelical movement to talk about where it's heading.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Ralph Reed runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He's been active in Republican politics for 30 years. At a recent coalition gathering of thousands of religious conservative activists, one thing immediately stood out - this crowd isn't as white as it used to be. That's not an accident, says Reed.
RALPH REED: Our goal is, over the coming decades, to build a genuinely multiracial, multiethnic faith-based movement.
DAVIS: Reed's message resonated with the Black pastors I spoke to at the conference, like W.J. Coleman from Louisville, Miss.
W J COLEMAN: But many realize that they are conservative, but the word conservative and Republican have been made an evil word. But if you take that out of the equation, many more minorities will find themselves being that.
DAVIS: Reed runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition now, but he's best known for starting the Christian Coalition back in the early '90s. He stepped out of the national spotlight for a while after he was caught up in the Washington scandal surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the mid-2000s. But Reed was never charged with any wrongdoing. He found his way back to national prominence after he embraced Donald Trump in 2016 and helped turn out the white evangelical vote in his favor. Reed's stock is once again on the rise as Republicans see a red wave coming this November.
REED: We are focused like a laser beam at turning out the largest faith-based evangelical and pro-life vote that we've seen in a midterm elections in our lifetimes.
DAVIS: When Reed started the Christian Coalition, the outfit built up an 8 million voter database. Today, Reed's database number's at 46 million.
REED: We will knock on more doors, touch more voters at the door not only than we have ever touched in the history of the organization, but than, I believe, have been touched by any outside organization on the center-right in my career.
DAVIS: If Reed sounds optimistic, he has reason to be. His organization has become a touchstone for any Republican candidate seriously considering a run for president. And the decisive sway of evangelical voters in primary politics has ambitious politicians making moves to win them over. One of them, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, went after the Walt Disney Corporation's special tax status after the company opposed a new state law prohibiting educators from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with children before the fourth grade. Reed says that was a watershed moment for the conservative movement.
REED: And for DeSantis to do it and not only pay no political price, but I would argue become a political beneficiary, and then for Disney to basically go radio silent and just take it was unbelievable.
DAVIS: Disney did not respond to a request for comment. Reed said the Disney fight has emboldened activists to more aggressively take on institutions that have been their traditional political allies.
REED: If the Disneys and the Deltas and the Coca-Colas of the world are not careful, they're going to take the best friend they've ever had when it came to economic policy and turn them into adversaries.
DAVIS: Reed also sees these culture war issues involving sex and gender and parental rights as a new avenue for the Republican Party to make inroads with Black and Latino voters, who attend church at higher rates than white voters do, according to the Pew Research Center.
REED: They really, really play and resonate powerfully in these minority communities - not among everybody, but it would be a minimum of 25% in the Black community, and it would probably be a minimum of 30% in the Hispanic community.
DAVIS: I spoke to Reed days before the Supreme Court handed down the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, though the outcome was expected after the draft opinion was leaked. Perhaps surprisingly, he did not think that abortion would be a major issue come November. He said, historically, only about 5% of voters list abortion as their No. 1 reason for voting.
REED: I think this election is going to be about what we all know it's going to be about, which is the economy, inflation and high prices.
DAVIS: The impact come November could be a Republican-controlled Congress emboldened to advance a socially conservative agenda. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.
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