Media Advisory: Republican debates, Wake Forest experts available

The first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6 will give the field of GOP candidates a forum to share their views. Wake Forest University faculty experts are available to comment on the “Trump phenomenon,” evangelical voters, the candidates’ objectives, and many other related topics.

GOP debates should be viewed as ‘mini-debates’— John Dinan, professor of politics and international affairs, can discuss the different objectives of various candidates in presidential primary debates. “A primary debate can be viewed as a series of mini-debates, with several candidates on the stage competing to be the top choice of social conservatives, other candidates vying for the support of libertarian-minded Republicans, some other candidates competing for the votes of centrists in the party, and still other candidates trying to appeal to voters who are particularly seeking an outsider.” Dinan teaches courses on American politics, including” Political Parties, Voters and Elections.”

Evangelical voters, the ‘Trump phenomenon’ and the ‘nones’ – Bill Leonard, an expert on contemporary American religious life, says religion issues will be important in the Republican debates, but candidates face some challenges. “The ‘Trump phenomenon’ has impacted efforts by many religion-oriented candidates to get the attention of the Republican base in any focused way,” Leonard says.  “He’s taking votes from several who have used or addressed religion issues, particularly fascinating since religion is not an element of his approach or person.” Regarding evangelical voters, Leonard says, “Overall, the evangelical vote is still important to the Republican base, but the politicians are confronted with a society in which one in five adults, and one in three millennials is a ‘none’ without religious affiliation or connection. That reality will impact this next election cycle dramatically where religion and voting blocs are concerned.”  He can also comment on specific candidates, including how Mike Huckabee’s Southern Baptist roots have influenced his successful use of rhetoric. Leonard is the ​James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies in Wake Forest’s School of Divinity. Widely known for his work in American, Southern and Baptist religious studies, he is the author or editor of 24 books.

Breaking out of the crowded pack is unlikely – Allan Louden, an expert on political campaigns and debates, can talk about the impact of the presidential debates and the crowded Republican field. Leading up to next week’s first Republican candidate debate, Louden says, “Sequential Play-In debates appears to be Fox’s solution to too many candidates, too little time. Akin to finding ‘qualifiers’ for Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, viable candidates without time or megaphone to move the polls will appear in a pre-debate debate on Fox. Maybe Fox should consider a series of qualifiers, one to one in a playoff format. It makes more sense than March Madness does for selecting a president. Breaking out of the crowded pack is unlikely.  A candidate’s best hope is to stay alive for rounds two, three, four . . . and more.” Louden, professor of communication, has provided expert commentary and analysis for USA TodayThe Los Angeles Times, MSNBCNewsweek and a wide range of other media outlets. He can provide post-debate analysis.

Will the Pope’s encyclical and the environment get mentioned during the debates? – Lucas Johnston, author of Religion and Sustainability: Social Movements and the Politics of the Environment and associate professor of religion and environmental studies, says that the 2016 Presidential candidates who are white and Catholic have all “expressed equivocation or outright denial when asked whether climate disruption is human-caused.” Johnston can comment on how the Pope’s encyclical could impact the upcoming 2016 elections and whether or not it will turn more of the faithful into environmental activists. “The clash between the Pope’s position and their political stance will elevate discussions of religion and the environment during this election. Data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) indicates that at least in the U.S. 61 percent of Latino Catholics, as opposed to only 40 percent of white Catholics, say that climate disruption is human-caused.”

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