Jody Hice, a controversial pastor who just secured the Republican nomination for the 10th congressional district of Georgia on Tuesday night, has already made headlines for his hard-right views on religion. Hice calls America's record on abortion "much worse than Hitler's six million Jews," says Muslims do not "deserve First Amendment rights," has said that women should consider running for office only if their husbands approve, and has claimed that the Sandy Hook child massacre was God's response to ending school prayer.
Those comments, and many, many others like them have already placed Hice under the microscope of left-leaning publications. But it is the candidate's views on Mormonism that may garner conservative criticism as well.
In a 2011 interview, during a chat that at one point revolved around Hice's contention that the Obama administration is "destroying, purposefully" America's "Judeo-Christian heritage," Hice was asked by an evangelical talk radio host if it would be worth "replacing Obama with Mormon [and failed 2012 GOP Presidential nominee] Mitt Romney?" Without missing a beat, Hice told the interviewer, Rick Wiles, that there was little difference between the two. Hice said one of the reasons he couldn't trust Romney was because of "his understanding of our Christian values." He added, Romney is "a wolf in sheep's clothing." (You can listen to the interview here.)
Romney was dogged by evangelicals who questioned his religion during both of his runs for the presidency. But those attacks were generally at the margins, made by inconsequential preachers or low-level politicians.
Hice is different: He's well on his way to Congress. The 10th district of Georgia, currently occupied by failed Senate candidate and retiring Tea Party lawmaker Paul Broun, has a Cook Political Report PVI rating of R+14—meaning it is very unlikely that a Democrat could ever succeed there in a general election. Obama lost the 10th district by 26 percent in his last election, which was even more than in 2008, when he lost it by 22 percent.
Hice’s climb to political power began in earnest after working with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal outfit, to challenge the IRS over the prohibition against using tax-exempt Church property for partisan purposes. He gave explicitly partisan sermons, and then wrote letters to the government challenging them to stop him. In Georgia, Hice also formed a group to promote the placement of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and other public places. His activism led to a radio show and a failed bid for office in 2010.
YouTube is littered with sermons from Hice preaching about his goal of ending any separation between church and state. In one speech, he says he hopes to "re-engage Christians to take back this country and be salt and light in this world." In another, he explains that "the very reason we are a pluralistic society is because we have been based upon Judeo-Christian principles" and "a Christian worldview." He frequently refers to "corruption" in government as the "absence of God."
In a monster sermon he has repeated on multiple occasions, Hice explains that there is evidence that secularism is the primary cause of most of society's problems. "Look it up, every secular society," he said before a congregation earlier this year, "you have corruption, you have chaos, you have crime, you have abuse of alcohol and drugs, you have teenage pregnancies going through the roof, families falling apart, high divorce rate, you've got gang violence, you've got all this stuff."
In a year that has seen a mix of Tea Party losses and triumphs, how did Hice win his party's nomination?
Campaign finance reports show that he was backed by a familiar crowd of conservative interest groups, including political action committees representing Citizens United, the Family Research Council, the National Rifle Association, and Gun Owners of America. Shaun McCutcheon, the GOP donor who won a campaign finance victory with the Supreme Court earlier this year, gave Hice his signature patriotic amount of $1,776.
Corporate dollars and money from America's one percent made Hice's election possible. Disclosures reveal that AFLAC, the insurance giant, donated to the campaign. Concerned Women for America, a Christian Right women's group, also lent support. "Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee endorsed Jody Hice because he is a true champion for conservative issues that are important to women and their families," wrote Penny Nance, the CEO of CWA. The most recently available disclosures show that the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee received $8.1 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the oil baron Koch brothers' "secret bank," which is reportedly used to disperse funds from their fundraisers with other billionaire conservative donors. During roughly the same period as the Freedom Partners' check, the CWA LAC raised only $8.7 million, meaning the Koch donor network pays most of the group’s bills.
It may be easy to disregard Hice as yet another weird right-wing backbencher in Congress. After all, some of his opinions are simply loopy, like his belief that "blood moons" appearing on "Jewish holidays" are a sign that important events are on the horizon.
But there's also a scary side to Hice's militancy that seems to be gaining currency within the conservative movement. "We've got to understand this whole illegal immigration and amnesty, ultimately, is about voter fraud—it is about altering the will of the people of the United States," he repeatedly told a crowd when he first ran for office in 2010. In an interview posted last week, Hice heightened his rhetoric still further. Citizens, he argued, have the "Second Amendment"—which is to say lots of guns—at their disposal in order to deal with illegal immigrants.