Though Beck may not be every conservative Christian’s idea of a leader, many moderate conservatives agree that the old-guard religious right—represented by Pat Robertson and James Dobson—and their social priorities have ceased to hold much sway in Washington. Further, they believe that something
like Christian patriotism, what in theological circles is often called “American exceptionalism,” has replaced abortion and gay marriage as the rallying cry of the religious right. “Right-of-center independents and religious conservatives believe that America is an exceptional place,” says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. “If you’re going to be a candidate or a leader of a party and you’re seen as a person who doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, you’re going to have a hard time winning.” And because the economy has obliterated almost every other issue, there is very little daylight between social and fiscal conservatives, says John Green, political scientist at the University of Akron. If the economy does not recover, “social issues may not be as much ‘wedge’ issues as in the past,” he writes in an email. “However, patriotism could be a classic wedge issue in 2012, creating Republican votes among groups with liberal or moderate economic views.”…

Evangelicals characteristically see themselves as a persecuted group whose values are under assault by the mainstream culture, and Beck has most successfully (and visibly) reframed those values in terms of patriotism. The enemy is no longer “moral relativism,” a term that encompasses sexual promiscuity, divorce, homosexuality, and pornography. It’s socialism, the redistribution of wealth, immigrants—a kind of “global relativism” that makes no moral distinction between America and every other place. Beck speaks frequently about God’s special destiny for America. “We used to strive in this country to be a shining city on the hill,” he said at the “Restoring Honor” rally in August. “That’s what the Pilgrims came here for. That’s what they thought this land was. It’s what our Founders thought … It is the shining example of a place where people work together in peace and friendship and worship God and make things better together.”