The Reagan coalition was an "alliance of opposites" which joined the traditional big business base of the Republican Party with social libertarians and religious conservatives, all of whom wanted "smaller government." The conflict between the libertarians and the Christian conservatives was always the most obvious fault line in the party. The alliance, though, was enough to put Reagan and Bush I in office, and sweep the Republicans to power in Congress. Of the three legs of the Reagan Republican stool, big business, and the rich people who run them, got the most, libertarians got something, and family values conservatives got not much. Some defended the conservative credentials of the party, though, for achieving what could be done over Democratic and "liberal elite" opposition.
The second time around, the current President Bush held together that coalition. Republicans expanded their control of government, and have been in power long enough to effectively control the judiciary, too. Unlike his two Republican predecessors, George W. Bush really is an evangelical Christian from a red state. He has talked the talk for a long time, and now has the political muscle to make it so.
So, what have family values voters gotten for their quarter century of loyal support of the Republican Party? Almost nothing. Whenever there is a conflict between business interests and traditional family interests (as there is on almost every issue), the governing party has sided with business.
This is not just my conclusion. Lately, some heavy hitters among conservative Christian Republicans have been critical of the Bush administration on exactly these grounds. Alan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Religion, Family, and Society, said "when the interests of big business and the interests of average families collide, the GOP almost always gives way to the interests of big business." Even more significant are the criticisms from Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, the research arm of Focus on the Family. He notes that "When you look at what the [presidential] discussion has been since 2004, marriage has been absent from the vocabulary."
One of the great achievements of both parties in the 1970s was to mobilize evangelicals to vote at all. In 1976, the "year of the evangelical," previously apolitical evangelical voters turned out for born-again Democrat Jimmy Carter to throw the Watergate rascals out. Four years later, evangelicals moved to their more natural home, the family-values-talking Republicans under Reagan.
It is hard to imagine evangelicals as a group deciding the reject all worldly politics. But it is easy to imagine a continuing erosion of evangelical voting, as they conclude that the Democrats are too opposed to their family values, and the Republicans, though they talk a good game, are too wedded to mammon to deliver for God. If Republicans won't actually produce traditional family laws under George W. Bush plus majorities in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, they probably never will.