It hasn’t been a secret what members of the Religious Right sought under their Christmas trees this year, and voters playing the role of Santa Claus delivered: Donald Trump for president.
Even though his own advisors have indicated you can’t take what Trump says literally, his voiced support for issues dear to the hearts of far-right evangelicals was enough for them to overlook the reality television star’s three marriages, permissive attitude on adultery and boasts about sexually assaulting women.
Exit polling showed 81 percent of white, evangelical Christian voters cast their ballots for Trump.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins noted the “bridge between Donald Trump and Christian conservatives” was the candidate’s pledge to appoint conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal benches. (As The Washington Post reports this morning, there are more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, meaning Trump is well poised to deliver on this promise.)
Perkins said other decisive issues included Trump’s backing of efforts to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens and his vow to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a provision in federal law that prohibits non-profits, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Perkins was involved in developing the Republican Party’s 2016 platform, which espoused conservative social priorities. It echoed Trump in supporting another issue of concern to Americans United: the expansion of private school voucher plans that would direct tax dollars to religious schools.
We're ready to fight the Religious Right.
Trump also had an “evangelical advisory board” full of far-right voices willing to overlook the candidate’s less-than-righteous past in exchange for a potential ally in the White House.
Some of those advisors included:
James Dobson, founder of the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and Family Talk, who referenced the election as a “single-issue” race revolving around the appointment of at least one Supreme Court justice. He called Trump’s list of proposed conservative justices “stellar” and also was encouraged by Trump’s running mate selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has deep ties to the Religious Right.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the fundamentalist Liberty University, was one of Trump’s early Religious Right endorsers. “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” Falwell said as he introduced Trump at the Virginia university in January 2015. After the election, Falwell said he was offered but declined the role of secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, told The Washington Post that “people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal.” He added that the taped conversation featuring Trump’s comments about groping women ranked “pretty low on [evangelical voters’] hierarchy of their concerns.”
Apparently, those same voters’ concerns have changed since 1998, when Reed, then running the Christian Coalition, referenced then-President Bill Clinton to The New York Times: “We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.”
It remains to be seen whether Trump will try to fulfill his promises, or if this is a gift Christian conservatives will wish they could exchange. I suspect the former. Trump doesn’t have to sincerely believe in the Religious Right’s agenda to attempt to deliver on it, and since he wants the Religious Right’s ongoing support, why wouldn’t he try to keep its leaders and members happy? Trump is already doing that. Just look at his cabinet appointees.
One thing’s for sure: Americans United will have its hands full next year. We’re going to need your help, so if you’re not a card-carrying member, now is the time to sign up.