The religious right movement has struggled for decades to play a leading role in choosing the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, but this year, social conservatives declared early on, would finally be their year.
And yet, after doing everything right and carefully following their specific strategy, the GOP ended up going with a thrice-married adulterous casino owner who quite literally can’t tell the difference between a communion plate and a collection plate.
Will the right-wing theological movement and the secular nativist forge a constructive partnership? As The Atlantic noted, the two sides are working on it.
No matter how much American politics have changed during this election cycle, one eternal truth remains: Republicans need evangelical voters. Even Donald Trump, the man of botched Bible verses and many wives, is making moves to win over conservative Christians. On Tuesday, he met with more than 1,000 mostly evangelical leaders, along with some Catholics, in a closed-to-the-press meeting in New York City.Big names – from former presidential candidate Ben Carson to the Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to the pollster George Barna – apparently spoke at the event, while Trump took pre-selected questions in a discussion moderated by the former presidential candidate and preacher Mike Huckabee. But while Trump has a number of vocal evangelical cheerleaders, and leaders gave him a hearing on Tuesday, many conservative Christians are still wary of the presumptive Republican nominee.
Soon after, the Trump campaign announced the creation of a new “executive board convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America.” The name at the top of the list: Michele Bachmann.
Yes, that Michele Bachmann. The failed former presidential candidate and former congresswoman has a new gig, advising her party’s presumptive nominee on evangelical issues. What could possibly go wrong?
She’ll be joined by a variety of prominent figures from the religious right movement – the panel has 25 members in all – including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, and Ralph Reed.
Why does any of this matter? A couple of reasons, actually. First, after the mass-shooting in Orlando, Trump eagerly touted himself as the LGBT community’s new best friend. That was last week. This week, the Republican presidential candidate is welcoming members of a new advisory board filled with right-wing evangelicals who are some of the nation’s fiercest anti-gay voices.
Second, it’s worth appreciating what Trump’s pitch to evangelical leaders entails. We talked yesterday about the GOP candidate’s ridiculous criticism of Hillary Clinton’s faith, but as the Washington Post noted, that’s not all he said.
As president, he said, he’d work on things including: “freeing up your religion, freeing up your thoughts. You talk about religious liberty and religious freedom, you don’t have any religious freedom if you think about it,” he told the group, which broke in many times with applause.Throughout the talk Trump emphasized that America was hurting due to what he described as Christianity’s slide to become “weaker, weaker, weaker.” He said he’d get department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” and would fight restrictions on public employees, such as public school coaches, from being allowed to lead sectarian prayer on the field.
Much of this is silly – presidents don’t have the authority to intervene in any of these areas – and I suspect the religious right leaders know better.
And therein lies the rub: Trump is eager to get in the movement’s good graces (no pun intended), but it might take some time before leading social conservatives warm up to the Republican.