Politics & Policy

Evangelicals without Standards

Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Pueblo, Colo., October 3, 2016. (Reuters photo: Mike Segar)
The widespread support of Donald Trump by prominent Evangelicals is one of 2016’s biggest disappointments.

Lanny Davis must be dizzy from the déjà vu.

Davis was a stalwart defender of Bill Clinton during the scandals of the 1990s. Little did he know that the excuses and rationalizations made for Clinton then would be repurposed by some of Clinton’s harshest and most moralistic critics for a Republican presidential contender.

One day, historians will puzzle over how a man representing the mores of a debased celebrity culture became not just the nominee of the Republican party, but the candidate of the religious Right. After the Access Hollywood tape emerged of Donald Trump bragging about an act of attempted adultery and getting away with groping women, representatives of “values voters” jumped most eagerly to his defense.

In a weird and depressing year, this has to rank among the strangest and most dispiriting phenomena. The salt has lost its savor as the price of a place at the table on the Trump Train.

The leading Evangelical defender of Trump is vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, who could sound like he’s delivering a sermon when ordering a cup of coffee. The first step in Pence’s highly principled, faith-based testimonial for Trump was to wait to see how he did in the second presidential debate – in case Trump blew himself up and Pence had to craft a highly principled, faith-based exit from the ticket. The second step was to pretend as though a penitent Trump was Henry IV standing barefoot in the snow begging forgiveness.

Pence said it takes a “big man to know when he is wrong.” As if it were a difficult call whether Trump was wrong to try to seduce a married woman or, as he put it, “move on her like a bitch.” According to Pence, “My running mate showed humility, showed what was in his heart to the American people.” Actually, Trump expressed the minimum remorse possible.

When the tape first surfaced, Trump gave a pro forma “if anyone was offended” apology and slammed Bill Clinton for saying far worse things to him on the golf course. It wasn’t until hours later that his aides extracted from him a fuller apology.

Throughout, Trump gave off a sense of underlying anger at being caught. Bill Clinton sounded exactly the same way in the 1990s when he could no longer deny his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Not surprisingly, Trump was in Clinton’s camp back in the day. The mogul said at the time that Clinton’s conduct was no big deal and – true to form – dismissed the women he preyed on as unattractive.

Clinton’s defenders used to wheel out the King David defense, and Trump supporters have resorted to it in recent days. The 10th-century B.C. king of the Israelites indeed committed adultery, and in truly spectacular fashion. He impregnated Bathsheba and got her husband killed to avoid discovery. A hot mic in King David’s court might have made Trump blush. But this story doesn’t end well – the consequence of David’s sin was deadly strife in his family and kingdom.

#related#The other common line of Clinton and Trump defenders is that we are all sinners. This is, of course, profoundly true. And people do change. But there is zero evidence that Trump has undergone any transformation. He evidently still doesn’t have the slightest inkling that Christians aren’t supposed to be vindictive, dishonest, insulting, bullying, greedy, or boastful, among other things.

The prominent Evangelicals sticking by Trump believe that he would be better on the issues – especially Supreme Court nominees and religious liberty – than Hillary Clinton would be. This is a reasonable calculation, although very few Trump supporters can remain clear-eyed about him. Most find themselves defending the indefensible because forthrightly acknowledging all of Trump’s faults makes backing him so awkward.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign sinks, more than anything else, from the character flaws of the candidate. It would be a perfect morality tale for the religious Right — if so many of its leaders weren’t implicated in it.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular


Jussie Smollett Jokes Declared Off-Limits

The Jussie Smollett story has been declared not fit for jokes. "It's a straight-up tragedy," declares the co-creator of a Comedy Central show, South Side, set in Chicago. Bashir Salahuddin, a former Jimmy Fallon writer, says “The whole situation is unfortunate. Particularly for the city, there’s bigger ... Read More

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More
Film & TV

The Movies Take On Limbaugh, Levin, et al.

Oh, good, here’s the lefty British comic Steve Coogan to give us his take on American right-wing talk radio. Let’s all settle in for some deep insights. The comedy-drama is dismally titled Hot Air. No, seriously. That’s what they came up with. Coogan’s Lionel Macomb is introduced to us via his ... Read More
White House

Trump’s Ignorant Comments on Israel

Making the click-through worthwhile: figuring out what President Trump meant when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”; examining the data on how American Jews actually feel about Israel; and why Democrats will always find a way or a reason to avert ... Read More