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.
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.