WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a business session with state governors in the State Dining Room at the White House February...
Chip Somodevilla

Trump tells Christian leaders he changed key tax law (but he didn’t)

One of Donald Trump’s more unnerving habits is bragging about accomplishments that don’t exist in reality. To hear the president tell it, for example, he’s already solved the North Korea nuclear crisis, begun construction on a border wall, extracted major concessions from our NATO allies, and struck history’s largest trade deal with Mexico.

None of those things have actually happened, but Trump doesn’t appear to care. The Republican routinely brags about imagined triumphs, insisting that his made-up accomplishments are real.

He did it again this week during striking remarks to a group of evangelical Christians at the White House. NBC News reported:

In a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders Monday night, President Trump repeated his debunked claim that he had gotten “rid of” a law forbidding churches and charitable organizations from endorsing political candidates, according to recorded excerpts reviewed by NBC News.

In fact, the law remains on the books, after efforts to kill it in Congress last year failed.

At issue is something called the Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt entities, including houses of worship, from intervening in partisan elections. Trump, eager to please his allies in the religious right movement, has made repeal of the federal tax law provision a top priority.

The provision, however, remains intact – which made it problematic when the president told his guests on Monday night, “Now one of the things I’m most proud of is getting rid of the Johnson Amendment…. Now you’re not silenced anymore. It’s gone and there’s no penalty anymore.”

This was the opposite of the truth. Trump didn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment, and those who violate federal tax law may face penalties from the IRS, including the possible loss of their tax-exempt status.

So why would the president lie to a group of his allies? It’s possible Trump was simply confused – he often seems to struggle with the line between our reality and his alternative one – but it’s just as likely that his misplaced boasts stem from his panic about the midterm elections.

Indeed, let’s not separate the president’s nonsensical claims from the broader context: Trump is worried about Republican losses in November, and he probably sees conservative Christian churches as a tool to be exploited to boost GOP candidates.

To that end, he gave his ostensible evangelical allies some very bad advice.

At the same event, Trump apparently tried to instill a sense of fear among attendees, telling his audience that his opponents are “violent people” who would overturn his policies “violently.”

“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable,” he said. “Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you and for me and for my family, but I’ve done them…. This November 6th election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment.”

Note Trump’s reference to “your religion.” Given that he was talking to his fellow Christians, it’s curious that he didn’t say “our religion.”