The Corner

Religion

Trumpism as Threat to Religious Conservatives

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., February 28, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Donald Trump has endorsed New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik to replace Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican caucus.

“Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership” Trump said in a statement. “We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

This is an odd argument for Trump to make. Elise Stefanik voted against President Trump’s agenda items far more often than Cheney, and Stefanik is just as much a hawk as Cheney. She voted in opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. She voted for the Paris Climate Accords and to end the border emergency declaration. She also voted for the Equality Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that would dramatically weaken religious-liberty protections in the face of LGBT claims.

Many religious conservatives have embraced Donald Trump’s movement in the Republican Party. They saw an opportunity in the populist and nationalist drift of the party to get away from libertarianism, which they see as an electoral anchor, and an ally of big business, which is now a cultural enemy. In nationalism, they see a principle of cohesion or communitarianism. Some see it as an inchoate desire to enact the justice elements of Catholic social teaching.

But, there has always been another side to the Trumpian coin. Trump was always stronger among voters who identified as non-church-going Evangelicals. And there are political figures such as Stefanik who like Trump precisely because he will wave the rainbow flag and declare himself the “most pro-gay president” ever. They like him because his nationalist culture-warring can act as a replacement for the religious culture war. They are happiest when lowering taxes and denouncing political correctness.

We may really see this tested in a candidacy such as Caitlyn Jenner’s in California. Jenner is being advised by people from Trump’s orbit.

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