With a comical pandering session, Trump shows how irrelevant the Christian right has become to presidential politics



Yesterday a group of evangelical leaders traveled to New York so that Donald Trump could deliver them the most simplistic, insincere session of pandering they’ve ever witnessed. While it wasn’t the first time Trump has reached out to the Christian right, it provided a vivid illustration of the fact that as an organized and potent force in national politics, the Christian right has faded into nothingness. It now exists for nothing more than to be patted on the head and sent on its way with an encouragement to vote in November.

 Donald Trump won a standing ovation from hundreds of Christian conservatives who came to New York City on Tuesday with a somewhat skeptical but willing attitude toward a man who has divided their group with comments on women, immigrants and Islam. In his comments, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said he would end the decades-old ban on tax-exempt groups’ including churches politicking, called religious liberty “the No. 1 question,” and promised to appoint antiabortion Supreme Court justices.

I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity  and other religions is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” Trump said. A ban was put in place by President Lyndon Johnson on tax-exempt groups making explicit political endorsements. Religious leaders in America today, Trump said, “are petrified.”

One has to wonder what they thought when Trump started talking about his “contribution to Christianity” as though he were Martin Luther or something because he’d try to let churches make official political endorsements. It’s hard not to be reminded of the time in January when Trump spoke before Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to persuade evangelicals to support him. Everyone mocked him for citing “Two Corinthians,” but the really telling moment was when, just after reading the passage, he said, “Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.” At times, Trump’s complete inability to be subtle is a blessing.

Trump’s comically ham-handed appeal to these leaders  among other things, he apparently believes that someone passed a federal law forbidding the words “Merry Christmas” from being uttered, but he’s going to take care of that, believe me  only serves to reinforce how irrelevant they’ve become. As we do every four years, we wondered whom evangelical Republicans would support in the primaries, but as has happened so often, they were unable to act as a coherent force. Ted Cruz worked hard for their votes, but all it got him was a victory in Iowa; he joined 2012 winner Rick Santorum and 2008 winner Mike Huckabee in the club of those who didn’t get their party’s nomination. And as Sarah Posner has noted, many evangelicals, particularly adherents of the “prosperity gospel,” which preaches that God wants you to be rich, ended up attracted to the least observant and most personally morally repugnant candidate in the race, because hey, he has his own plane and hates Muslims.

During the primaries, Cruz would tell audiences that the Republican Party would be guaranteed victory in the fall if only they could raise up the sleeping evangelical electorate and sweep them to their polling places on an unstoppable tide of righteousness. “Today roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home,” he said. “Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.” It’s a myth that has been repeated in election after election, and it grows more tired with each telling.

The “missing” evangelical voters aren’t missing because they’ve turned away from worldly things; they’re missing because they’re Americans, and Americans only turn out at rates of 55 percent to 60 percent or so in presidential elections. Evangelicals are not particularly more or less likely than anyone else to stay home. In 2012, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the voters, the same percentage they did in 2008; in 2004, it was 21 percent. That may tick down a bit this year, because their numbers as a proportion of the population are slowly declining, as all Christian denominations are. They’ll still give the overwhelming majority of their votes to Trump, not because they believe his occasional claims of devotion (they can’t possibly be that stupid), but simply because he’s a Republican.

There are some evangelical leaders disgusted with Trump who have pledged not to support him. But if the rest of them can be won over with some inane promises about department store holiday displays and a few shout-outs to tribal hatred of Muslims, then Trump is exactly the kind of candidate they deserve: one who’ll read off a list of pander points somebody prepared for him, then forget them as soon as he takes office.

Of course, that’s what many of them will say they’ve gotten from Republicans for years. But the truth is that they need Trump more than Trump needs them. No matter what, he’s not going to get more from evangelical voters than past Republican nominees have. But at least he made people like James Dobson and Franklin Graham feel, for a day, that they matter to this election.

Tom Lori Published by Tom Lori

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