It’s no secret that some Religious Right leaders are unhappy about the rise of Donald Trump as a viable GOP presidential nominee.
The far right is particularly steamed that among its evangelical base, Trump has consistently dominated in polls and in voting. Last month, a NBC News/Survey Monkey poll had Trump leading nationally among white evangelicals with 37 percent; more traditional Religious Right favorites like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were well behind at 20 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
In the GOP South Carolina primary last week, Trump received 33 percent of evangelical votes; Cruz took 27 percent and Rubio 22 percent. It seems likely that as long as both Cruz and Rubio remain in the race, neither can bump Trump from the lead.
Given this reality, many Religious Right leaders seem to be hitting the panic button. Last week, for example, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claimed that if Cruz is not elected president America will not have another presidential election. Ever.
Why are Perkins and his pals so upset? Let’s ask Bryan Fischer, host of his own show on the American Family Association’s (AFA) American Family Radio.
“Here’s the sobering reality: if Trump becomes our next president, conservatives will have to fight against him almost as hard as we’ve had to fight against [President Barack Obama],” Fischer declared in a column for AFA’s OneNewsNow.
Fischer went on to list all of the things “we will have to fight [Trump] on,” including “the homosexual agenda,” U.S. Supreme Court nominations, private property rights, immigration and even Islam.
“His loud declamations on suspending Islamic immigration are just that - loud declamations,” opined Fischer. “Anyone familiar with his negotiating style knows that his opening bid is always outrageously and unrealistically huge by design. It gives him room to make concessions and settle for what he thought he actually could get all along.”
If you don’t know Fischer, he’s a special sort of fellow. He has a tendency to overreact to things he doesn’t like, to put it mildly. In 2013, he insisted that the Nazi Party “began in a gay bar in Munich” and that Adolf Hitler employed “homosexual stormtroopers” to enforce his regime. He has also endorsed Scott Lively’s The Pink Swastika, which asserts that LGBT people orchestrated the Holocaust.
Despite (or maybe because of) his hyperbole, Fischer used to have a formal leadership role at AFA. But his comments about the Holocaust got him in trouble with some Israeli officials ahead of a 2015 trip to that nation co-sponsored by AFA and the Republican National Committee. So now Fischer peddles his hate mainly on the AFA airwaves.
Trump is clearly running as a far-right conservative. Yet Fischer seems to believe that since Trump has never held elected office, he might not mean what he says on the stump. The AFA, which obviously favors Cruz, is trying to get his wayward supporters off the Trump bandwagon.
To that end, the AFA’s political action committee has just released a “voter guide” that classifies Trump as a “moderate” along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich. It calls retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson “somewhat conservative,” even though he’s clearly opposed to church-state separation and is running as hard right. Rubio is dubbed merely “conservative.” The only candidate AFA classified as “very conservative” is (surprise!) Cruz.
Despite what AFA says about him, Trump is not running as a moderate. Seeking to ban all Muslim immigrants from entering the United States and forcing Mexico to build a wall that would keep its own people from coming to America is not exactly centrist thinking.
That the Religious Right is so upset about the presidential race is not a surprise – it has long thought of itself as a political kingmaker, but movement leaders have been thoroughly disappointed with the last two Republican presidential nominees: U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Of course, the Religious Right isn’t exactly lacking in political clout. It has been extremely successful at getting its chosen candidates elected to both state governments as well as the U.S. Congress. As a result, the far right agenda is advancing every day on both the state and federal levels.
But as a group, the Religious Right still isn’t satisfied despite its long list of wins. So when the GOP won’t give them what they want, they fly off the handle and launch desperate bids to help boost their hand-picked politicians into office.
It seems this time, that plan may not work. And the irony is, the Religious Right’s own supporters are the ones fueling Trump’s success. The far right has made it a point of pride that it can’t be controlled by the Republican establishment. As it turns out, the Religious Right establishment also can’t completely control its own base. Who could have seen that coming?