One of the roughly 1,000 guests at Tuesday’s summit meeting between Donald Trump and Evangelical leaders was Tom DeLay, the longtime House majority whip (and later majority leader) who was a vocal critic of Trump throughout the primary season, warning that Christian voters would stay home if he won the nomination.
The Texas politician was an outspoken voice for Christian values after being “born again” early in his congressional career. But DeLay, famously nicknamed “The Hammer” for his ability to impose discipline on members of his conference, has never shied from confrontation. He was one of several attendees Tuesday to complain that Trump was treated with kid gloves, saying he faced no probing questions about his values, faith, or evolving stances on key social issues.
DeLay spoke with National Review shortly after the meeting adjourned. What follows are excerpts of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Tim Alberta: What surprised you about today’s meeting with Donald Trump?
Tom DeLay: I don’t understand why [Mike] Huckabee was the moderator. Huckabee sold out for Trump. This was supposed to be a meeting of people who had real concerns. I love Mike Huckabee, but I don’t think it was appropriate to have him as the moderator in this particular setting. He spent half the time — half of our time – cheerleading for Trump. So I’m very concerned about that.
Alberta: What else stood out to you?
DeLay: Other than that, frankly, I was a little bit encouraged. I want God back in the center of our culture, and I want the Constitution to be the center of our government. God is the core of our Constitution, and the Constitution is the core of our government. And I want the president of the United States to reflect that. The best I could take away from this is I was impressed that he was listening. He wasn’t just blowing us off – he really was listening. I would have liked to see more of his heart.
Alberta: What were the questions like?
DeLay: They were softballs.
Alberta: You wanted to see him pinned down on certain things?
DeLay: I did. I wanted questions that would get to the heart of Donald Trump. Nobody is asking the questions, not even the media, that get to it. A simple question: Where do you get your values? Have you ever read the Constitution? What did you think about it?
Alberta: So which things, specifically, were encouraging to you?
DeLay: It was obvious he was listening, that he has been listening to people who are Christians, conservatives, constitutionalists. He isn’t there yet. He doesn’t know anything about the Constitution. He doesn’t know anything. But he is – I guess the best I can say is he’s growing.
Alberta: Do you think he won over any converts today?
DeLay: I don’t think so. Some people may have been converted because a lot of people want to support him, because they don’t want Hillary. But people like me, I’m going to wait and see how this goes, I’m not going to be out there working for him. I might have to vote for him when I get into that voting booth, but I’m not there right now.
What bothers me about the strong Christian-conservative constitutionalists that jumped on his bandwagon early on, is these are the same people that for 30 years of my political career demanded that we be Christians and constitutionalists and demanded purity. And now look whom they’re supporting. It’s an unbelievable phenomenon.
Alberta: So what do you say to those people?
DeLay: Just that: My entire career you gave me holy hell because I wasn’t pure enough or the Congress wasn’t pure enough doing certain things. And now, not only are you supporting somebody who’s not pure enough, you’re supporting somebody who is totally contrary to what you believe in, to your principles. An authoritarian who doesn’t understand the Constitution or the issues. He’s been on the opposite side of all of their issues. It’s just an incredible phenomenon.
Alberta: How do you explain that phenomenon?
DeLay: It’s because they’ve had it. They’ve lost total trust in the government, in their elected officials, their institutions. They’ve had it. They want somebody to take a big bomb and throw it right into the middle of the rotunda of the Capitol building, and they don’t care what comes out. I care. I want the same bomb thrown, but I want the Constitution placed back into that rotunda.
Alberta: So you’re still not there with Trump?
Alberta: Do you think you’ll get there?
DeLay: Where I am is, I don’t have time for any of this anymore. What I have time for is down-ballot [races]. And we’d better have good, solid people in the Senate – and in the House – to stand up to whomever’s president. That’s where my focus is going to be. I’m not going to waste my time; this will be my last one of these meetings.
Alberta: What did you think of Speaker Ryan’s endorsement of Trump?
DeLay: I think he should have taken a little more time to help bring him along. Because Trump is in that frame of mind. He’s trying to figure things out he’s never had to think through or think about. But I really believe he’s listening, and that’s a big step for me. If you’re listening, that’s a strong leadership trait that I’m encouraged by.
— Tim Alberta is the chief political correspondent for National Review.