President Donald Trump last night hosted what he called a “state dinner” for leaders of various Religious Right groups. According to media accounts, it was the usual stuff: Trump boasted that “attacks on communities of faith” are over, again asserted inaccurately that he has overturned the Johnson Amendment, which protects the integrity of houses of worship and other nonprofits by ensuring they don’t endorse or oppose political candidates, and thanked the latter-day moral majoritarians, saying their support “has been incredible” and noting, “I have given you a lot back.”
There’s a pattern with Trump: Whenever he gets into trouble – and let’s be honest, that happens a lot – he pulls in the Religious Right to stroke his ego and convince himself that he’s loved. The Religious Right is one of the few groups willing these days to give Trump unconditional support. Its leaders, especially the members of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, ignore Trump’s moral lapses, his petulant behavior and his tendency to govern the country by throwing fits on Twitter.
But there was more to last night’s dinner: It was a political event. Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition said as much in a tweet that read, “Last night, our chairman, @RalphReed, had the honor of joining faith leaders for a dinner at the White House with @realDonaldTrump to celebrate the influence of the evangelical vote in the elections and discuss plans to educate and turn out Christian voters in September.” (Whoever sent that tweet obviously meant to say “November.”)
Last night, our chairman, @RalphReed, had the honor of joining faith leaders for a dinner at the White House with @realDonaldTrump to celebrate the influence of the evangelical vote in the elections and discuss plans to educate and turn out Christian voters in September. pic.twitter.com/Ze41rj2OiQ— Faith & Freedom (@FaithandFreedom) August 28, 2018
Trump ally Pastor Robert Jeffress was even more blunt, telling TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, “They’re facing the possibility of a Democrat Congress that if they take control of the legislature are going to either impeach this president from office or at least paralyze him while he’s in office. I’m sure tonight will be a great motivation for evangelical leaders and their constituents to turn out in mass for the midterms.”
Now, we need to be clear about one thing: Despite what Reed’s group tweeted, Trump and his right-wing evangelical backers don’t want “Christian” voters going to the polls; they want certain types of Christians – far right ones who idolize Trump – marching out to vote. They no more want to see legions of liberal United Church of Christ members, old-school, church-state-separation-supporting Baptists and progressive Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, etc. voting in November than they want Stormy Daniels to get her own show on MSNBC.
Their plan is to mobilize (not “educate”) Trump’s right-wing evangelical base to spur votes for GOP candidates in the hope that they can stave off any congressional investigations of this ethically challenged administration. And they’re not above using America’s houses of worship as tools for this scheme – even though that’s against the law.
I’ve written before about the Religious Right’s galling tendency to preach morality to the rest of us while they snuggle up to Trump, a habitual liar and self-admitted sex offender who about a year ago couldn’t even muster the moral courage to criticize neo-Nazis. There’s no need to get into all that again.
Keep this in mind: The Religious Right is getting more than just free meals from Trump. We’ve seen real policy changes and, more distressingly, attempts to stack the federal courts with ultra-conservatives, Brett Kavanaugh being the latest example.
Yes, Trump has indeed given the Religious Right a lot. You can bet he expects payback Nov. 6.
(Photo: Evangelist Paula White and President Trump. Screenshot from The Washington Post video.)