The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump and the Social Issues

President Trump’s lack of religious zeal may be proving beneficial for social conservatives. He seems to regard them as an important part of his coalition and will give them anything for which they ask if it doesn’t cost him too much. (He hasn’t cut off Planned Parenthood from federal funding, something within his power to do, but as far as I can tell social-conservative organizations have not said that his taking this action is a priority for them.) And he may be able to accomplish more for social conservatives because he doesn’t pay the political price Republicans normally do. He does not appear to be holier-than-thou, or a religious extremist.

When Trump denied international family-planning funds to organizations that promote or perform abortion — when, that is, he imposed an expanded form of the Mexico City policy of previous Republican presidents — he drew a lot of criticism. But the intensity of that criticism seems to me to have been much lower than it was for social-conservative actions under President George W. Bush, because Bush was so associated with evangelical Christianity. The reaction would have been more intense if Mike Pence were president, too. The public would have been more primed to see Pence as a zealot, and so it would have profited Democrats more to pursue that line of attack. The fact that nobody thinks that Trump actually cares about any of these issues turns out to protect him. Perhaps hypocrisy is the price virtue pays for success.

I suspect Trump’s decision to exclude transgender people from the military, apparently because social-conservative groups made this policy a priority, will also cost him less politically than the same decision from a hypothetical President Pence would cost him, and for the same reason.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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