I’ve monitored Religious Right groups for more than three decades, and I have to say, I’ve seen nothing like what's unfolding these days. .

Over the years, I’ve attended meetings of the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council’s annual “Values Voter Summit.” I once sat through a “Reclaiming America for Christ” conference held by the late TV preacher D. James Kennedy in Florida, and I’ve been to gatherings sponsored by smaller or regional Religious Right groups.

Without exception, at every one of these meetings, I’ve heard the same message over and over again: character counts. America’s political leaders, speakers at these meetings would thunder, must model moral behavior. They set the standard, so don’t follow a leader who comes up short when it comes to “morals” and “values.”

Apparently, that’s all been tossed out the window. On Sunday night, an adult-entertainment film star named Stormy Daniels was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” to discuss her alleged affair with President Donald Trump. She provided salacious details of her time with Trump in 2006 and asserted that she was later threatened and told not to talk about it.

Leaders of the Religious Right have responded to this by making it clear they’re sticking with Trump.  

Daniels isn’t the only one speaking out. Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, has asserted that she too had an affair with Trump in 2006. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality show TV “The Apprentice,” is suing Trump for defamation, asserting that he sexually assaulted her in 2007. (A New York court recently ruled that her lawsuit can go forward.)

Again, leaders of Religious Right group either ignore or deny these charges – even though the allegations are in no way implausible. In Daniels’ case, we know that a lawyer for Trump just before Election Day 2016 gave her $130,000 to keep quiet. The allegations also track with Trump’s behavior. After all, Trump himself was caught on tape boasting about how easy it is to sexually assault women when you’re rich and famous.

A progressive president facing this tawdry combination of allegations by porn stars and centerfold models would be under constant fire from Religious Right groups. In Trump’s case, they’re simply shrugging their shoulders.

This isn’t just simple hypocrisy; something else is afoot.

Writing in The Washington Post, three university professors try to make sense of it. Andrew L. Whitehead, Joseph O. Baker and Samuel L. Perry assert that conservative evangelical support for Trump is driven by Christian nationalism, that is, the belief that the United States is, or ought to be, a “Christian nation.” (Of course, for the people who believe this, “Christianity” equates with far-right, fundamentalist versions of that faith.)

Analyzing data from a Baylor University survey on religion, the trio wrote, “The more someone believed the United States is – and should be – a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump.”

Whitehead, Baker and Perry go on to assert, “Many voters believed, and presumably still believe, that regardless of his personal piety (or lack thereof), Trump would defend what they saw as the country’s Christian heritage – and would help move the nation toward a distinctly Christian future. Ironically, Christian nationalism is focused on preserving a perceived Christian identity for America irrespective of the means by which such a project would be achieved. Hence, many white Christians believe Trump may be an effective instrument in God’s plan for America, even if he is not particularly religious himself.”

This line of thinking echoes the mental gymnastics on display in a new book titled, The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography, by David Brody, a reporter for TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and Scott Lamb, a vice president at Liberty University. Brody and Lamb assert that Trump is among the “elect,” a figure chosen by God to do divine work in the realm of politics.

So it’s official: The Religious Right no longer cares about character. If the movement’s followers must discard principle and twist themselves into knots to appoint Trump a kind of latter-day prophet, they’re willing to do it.   

How did the moral majoritarians, “values voters” and neo-Puritans of the Religious Right arrive at such a strange place? The armchair psychologist in me attributes it to fear.

America is changing. Far-right Christian fundamentalist supremacists have been forced to cede power and acknowledge the rights of those who believe differently. They’re seeing women, LGBTQ people, non-believers and others assert their rights, and they don’t like it. They’ve watched as Americans rejected their views on issues like marriage equality, and they are frightened. They see a future America that is more diverse than ever. It scares them. In response, they cling to a vision of an officially “Christian America” that never was and never will be – and they’ll even latch on to a guy like Trump if they think he can deliver it.

Now, there’s a slight possibility that a serial philanderer and petulant Twitter addict who can’t muster the moral courage to denounce evil when it’s staring him in the face will somehow manage to lead the Religious Right (and drag the rest of us) to the Christian nation of the theocrats’ dreams – but it looks like a longshot.

It’s not just that the quest for a Christian nation has historically been a fool’s errand – though it has been, as many zealots have learned over the years. Rather, what’s undermining the new crusade is the irony-rich realization that the Religious Right was correct about one thing after all: Character does still count for something.

And when your leader has amply demonstrated time after time that he’s utterly devoid of character but you choose to blindly follow him anyway, the odds that he’ll eventually lead you over a cliff are very good.  

(Photo: Screenshot from CBS News' "60 Minutes")