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Public understandably skeptical of Trump's professed religiosity

If the president's campaign strategy is rooted in performative displays of religion, he might need to start looking for a Plan B.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump signs a Bible as he greets people at Providence Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Alabama, on March 8, 2019, while touring areas where tornadoes killed 23 people in Lee County.Carolyn Kaster / AP

In an interview last week, Sean Spicer asked Donald Trump whether he's grown in his faith, and whether he prays often. "So I think maybe I have [grown spiritually], from the standpoint that I see so much that I can do," the president replied. "I've done so much for religion. The Johnson Amendment, getting rid of it.... Nobody thought any of this stuff would happen."

Trump did not, in reality, get rid of the Johnson Amendment, though it's a lie he enjoys repeating. But just as importantly, his answer offered a peek into a curious perspective: asked about his religiosity, Trump's instinct was to reflect on how impressed he is with himself.

As a result, polls like these seem inevitable.

As President Donald Trump leans on religion to reconnect with his political base ahead of the November election, most Americans dismiss the notion that he himself is a man of faith. Only 27 percent of registered voters in a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll said they somewhat or strongly agree that Trump himself is religious, while 55 percent somewhat or strongly disagree.

The White House must find this disappointing. After all, as we recently discussed, the president has been treating matters of faith as a political life-preserver lately.

It was a few weeks ago when Trump held a hastily thrown together White House event in which he declared houses of worship "essential" during the pandemic crisis. The president added that he'd override governors that kept houses or worship closed in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a substantive matter, this was meaningless theater. It's not up to Trump to decide who and what is deemed "essential" at the state level, and he lacked the authority to mandate open religious services.

But this was about politics, not policy. The same was true when Trump briefly posed with a Bible at St. John's Episcopal Church -- after peaceful protestors were removed by force from Lafayette Square, clearing a path for the president's photo-op. A day later, he toured a Catholic shrine for no particular reason.

While questions of the president's faith are inherently subjective -- no one can say with absolute certainty what he genuinely believes -- the public's skepticism is hardly outrageous. As regular readers know, Trump -- a thrice-married former casino owner -- claimed to go to a New York church that rarely saw him. Asked if he's ever asked God for forgiveness, he said, "I don't think so." Asked whether he's drawn more to the New or Old Testaments, Trump replied, "Both."

And, of course, there was the whole "Two Corinthians" incident.

If the president's campaign strategy is rooted in performative displays of religion, he might need to start looking for a Plan B.