Christian supremacist elites can’t save Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio

The Washington Blade is reporting that Ted Cruz has just announced the formation of a “religious liberty council,” featuring professional bigots like Tony Perkins and Ryan T. Anderson. As the Blade notes, Cruz’s council bears a resemblance to Marco Rubio’s “marriage and family” board, which was formed in advance of the South Carolina primary.

Observers will note a marked lack of non-Christians on these religiously-oriented boards. As it happens, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders aren’t keen on fighting for their right to discriminate.

These are the latest in a series of coalitions, boards and councils that Cruz and Rubio have formed, bringing religious leaders together in order to signal to their respective flocks that they are true believers. Cruz and Rubio jockeyed late last year for these leaders’ support, with Cruz appearing to have won out, but both he and Rubio have continued to make big shows of the fact that various members of the religious right’s professional class are in their respective corners.

Thus far, it hasn’t kept Donald Trump from eating their Evangelical lunches.

Donald Trump speaking at Liberty University, screenshot via YouTube

Donald Trump speaking at Liberty University, screenshot via YouTube

With very few exceptions, Trump has dominated among self-described Evangelical voters, prompting quite a bit of “Huh? What?” from the people Cruz and Rubio have placed on their Christian councils. Trump is obviously irreligious, and is clearly without principle on Evangelicals’ core priorities.

Not only is his opposition to abortion access is recent and political, but he even supports Planned Parenthood’s non-abortive services! That’s long been thought to be a major no-no for the Evangelical community: Good conservative Christians are supposed to oppose Planned Parenthood because it’s sex-positive, not just because it does the a-word.

Trump says he’s for “traditional marriage” while seemingly being unclear as to what the term means. He’s talked the right talk on overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, but he has yet to explain to Evangelical voters — or anyone, for that matter — why gays and lesbians shouldn’t get to have one spouse if he gets to have three — always with a “young and beautiful piece of ass” on the side.

Trump holds up the Bible and calls it the greatest book of all time, saying no one reads it more than him, but he apparently missed the part where it told him, over and over again, to ask God for forgiveness for his sins — of which he claims to have none.

Tony Perkins knows this. Ryan Anderson knows this. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sure as hell know this. And it’s driving them up the wall. What gives?

I have a theory.

Maybe, just maybe, the conservative movement has spent so long politicizing religion that Evangelical voters are willing to forgive heresies as long as the politics match. Maybe, just maybe, self-described Evangelical conservatives are flocking to Trump because “Evangelical” in the context of American politics now has less to do with religion and more to do with conservative identity signaling. This may be baffling for members of the Evangelical establishment, who may really be Christian first and Republican second, but it jives with an electorate that is, if anything, Republican first and Christian second.

If Tony Perkins, et al is surprised by this, it’s hard for me to muster any sympathy. For decades, the Republican Party has been telling us that being a good Christian means rejecting non-whites and liberals while ignoring economic justice. More recently, they have told us that being a good Christian means standing up to oppressive forces both domestic and abroad. Within our borders, secular liberals are taking away Christians’ privilege to translate their beliefs into public policy by imposing “political correctness” on the public. Abroad, a marauding horde of Ay-rabs is gearing up to pour into our country and kill us all.

As long as Trump remains one step ahead of Cruz and Rubio on these political issues — as long as he is the one who comes up with the wild and crazy ideas to address these conspiracies — it doesn’t matter if he borrows language from the King James Bible in order to make his case. He doesn’t need to pretend that God told him to run for president, and he doesn’t need to explain how as president he’ll coerce businesses into saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” In present-day Republican politics, railing against political correctness and promising to “bomb the sh*t” out of some Muslims is adequately-performed Christianity.

Ted Cruz can preach the Good Word all he wants, and it may win over members of the Evangelical establishment, but in a few months he’ll be back to doing it from the Senate floor. Tony Perkins can’t save Ted Cruz. Ryan T. Anderson can’t save Marco Rubio. As far as the self-described Evangelical rank and file is concerned, Donald Trump is the candidate who most closely matches their values, no matter what their leaders tell them.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Diane

    Perhaps they can vote for somebody like trump because the religious zealots are all in Congress! And in their state legislatures.
    But should they lose the Senate watch them get all squirrelly again!

  • John Masters

    I agree that the leaders of the “evangelical movement” have misjudged who are members of their flock. They have, with a wink and a nod, welcomed and subtly cultivated the racist, xenophobic, and, of course, homophobic members. But that is the problem…these people are those things first, and merely come to religion to find justification for themselves, and they found it in the evangelical movement….acceptance at least.

    So, now the chickens are home to roost. These folks have felt emboldened by Trump to lift the curtain, and show who they really are, and religious evangelicals are aghast, and trying to distance themselves. Even Al Moehler of the Southern Baptist Convention admits, in an NPR interview, that maybe there aren’t as many real evangelicals as they believed.

    The problem is, these people are now the evangelical movement. They were welcome as brothers and sisters when they voted the way their leaders wanted them too, but now, not so much.

  • Opinionated Cat Lover

    Spot on. Conservative Xtians, aka faux Christians who are more into oppressing people than doing the Word of Christ, have been waiting for a long time for someone who says what they want to hear, without filtering it for ‘the mainstream’. Trump speaks to them in a way that Cruz and others just can’t. He says the racist, ugly things they want to hear, and tells off the very people they want told off. Xtians aren’t followers of the Almighty. Instead, they’re followers of themselves, of Factions (In Nomine reference, demon prince who encourages people to form groups and hate other groups), and of outright Greed. Trump speaks to that. So Trump is the current front runner.

  • 2karmanot

    BINGO: “They are similarly stumped by the loyalty of culturally conservative blacks and
    Latinos to the nominally liberal Democratic Party” These are primarily the voters behind Hillary, in spite of the fact that the Clinton’s have done nada for people of color, whose true advocate should be Bernie Sanders. A perfect example is the coalition of black churches and the Prop 8 contretemps.

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  • goulo

    “jibe”, not “jive”. :)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzIcec_bQss

  • MoonDragon

    The Republican elites (mainline Protestant cultural conservatives,
    moneyed megachurch Evangelicals, and RNC apparatchiks who think they understand
    the religious right) are puzzled by the seeming contradiction embodied in rank
    and file evangelicals’ embrace of the demonstrably irreligious Donald Trump.
    They are similarly stumped by the loyalty of culturally conservative blacks and
    Latinos to the nominally liberal Democratic Party. When one considers that, in
    each case, there is a trade-off between absolute purity and practical benefit,
    the situations can be explained.

    Addressing the second case first, while the pro-life,
    anti-gay, in-your-face religiosity of the current incarnation of the mainstream
    Republican Party would seem a better fit for culturally conservative, strongly family
    oriented blacks and Latinos, the policies that affect the day to day wellbeing
    of such families (economic, health and safety, opportunities to participate in
    the body politic) matter more the policies that would impose sanctions on what
    are effectively private behaviors. The Democrats may be liberals, but, in spite
    of conspiracy theories to the contrary, there’s no evidence that they will
    impose the life-style of Sodom on the public.

    For the former situation, Donald Trump represents the
    aggressive, violent, bullying, even vulgar and rude, behavior that some of
    those who self-identify with the Evangelical “tribe” ascribe to strength of
    purpose. He may not share their dedication to Jesus as a personal Lord and
    Savior (he might even down right reject the notion) but they have seen ample
    evidence that he will not merely tolerate, but encourage, their bugfuckery and
    assholiness in pursuit of imposing their personal beliefs on everyone else.

    In both cases, groups can forgive impurity in favor of
    perceived benefits, since the impurities come with little or no real cost.

  • BearEyes

    the conservative movement has spent so long politicizing religion that Evangelical voters are willing to forgive heresies as long as the politics match.

    – that’s already been going on for years, if not decades. They’re only “christian” when it’s conveniently cherry-picked to support their politics.

  • This seems to be institutionally reflexive behavior among the Republicans in the last generation:
    – Conservatism cannot fail; it can only BE failed. If our candidate loses, it’s always because he wasn’t conservative enough
    – Each sub-group within the GOP thinks that despite being a minority of Republicans, their particular brand of extremism is the answer for the party and will see them to victory.
    – They’re incapable of realizing a monster candidate like Trump is the inevitable outcome of years of well-poisoning and dog-whistling (to mix metaphors)

    And so, rather than try to rally the entire party and to grow it, Cruz and Rubio both turn to a subset of their own supporters — the Evangelicals Christian supremacists — and think somehow just that minority of Americans can give them victory.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    It’s becoming clear that the American conservatives are willing to forgo church just to be heard as a shift to the left is gathering steam. This slight shift to the left is a welcome relief to those who want some civil freedoms and less control of regressive religious ideals ruling their lives. I’m hoping for a shift of the Supreme Court as the right has controlled things far too long. The environmental crisis has not be helped at all by all the pro-business rulings of late. It’s time for our leaders to address the climate and start to go “clean” as soon as possible before it’s too late. This election cycle will hopefully usher in a renewed emphasis on the climate and personal civil freedoms.

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