Evangelical leaders aren't so much concerned about Trump's sex scandals. They're just concerned about the fallout.
Evangelical Christian leaders are reportedly planning a “sit-down” with Trump to discuss their concerns about his affair with porn star Stormy Daniels and the subsequent effort to cover it up. But it’s not the moral, spiritual, or even legal aspects of the scandal that concern them — it’s the potential political fallout.
Citing four sources involved with the planning of the sit-down, NPR reported Friday that the meeting, which is scheduled to take place in June, will address mounting worries within the evangelical community that Trump’s sex scandals could suppress voter turnout among conservative Christians in the 2018 midterm elections.
“We’re very concerned” about the allegations, one faith leader told NPR. “It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear,” like restricting LGBT rights and banning abortion.
Trump has remained unusually quiet about his alleged affair with Daniels, though the White House has issued statements denying it ever happened. When Trump finally broke his silence this week, he denied having any prior knowledge of the $130,000 payment that his personal lawyer Michael Cohen made to Daniels.
According to Daniels, the payment was meant to stop her from publicly discussing the alleged affair ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
In addition to Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal also recently came forward to share details about an alleged nine-month-long affair with Trump.
Trump, of course, is no stranger to sex scandals. He has long been known to boast about his extramarital affairs, even going as far as to pose as his own spokesperson while calling into radio shows to brag about his affairs. He was also infamously caught on tape making vulgar remarks about trying to seduce a married woman, and — on that very same recording — was heard bragging about being able to get away with sexual assaulting women.
Evangelical leaders gave him a pass for all of that, though. In their eyes, adultery, sexual misconduct, and mistreatment of women were apparently a small price to pay for getting the chance to enact their radical right-wing agenda nationwide.
As Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, explained in January 2017, Trump’s pledge to only nominate anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court “cleared the path” for evangelical voters who were on the fence and gave them an excuse to ignore Trump’s own morally repugnant behavior.
In the end, white evangelical voters fueled Trump’s victory, voting for him in greater numbers than any other Republican in modern history. More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians cast their ballots for the thrice-married candidate who had a child out of wedlock and openly admitted that he hadn’t been to church in years.
“Evangelicals played their odds and won,” Gonidakis said. “Now Mr. Trump has to deliver on that specific promise.”
These voters also helped propel Republican candidates to victory in 2016. But two years later, evangelical leaders are afraid that their base won’t turn out for the midterm elections — a scenario that could jeopardize their opportunity to discriminate against LGBT Americans, control women’s bodies, and force their religion into other people’s lives.
“If these folks don’t turn out in record numbers in 2018, it’s gonna be a long night for Republicans,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, according to NPR.
In a desperate attempt to galvanize support heading into the fall, evangelical leaders are hoping to use the June meeting with Trump as a sort of pep-rally, designed to reassure and remind voters that Trump has kept his pledge of letting them use him as an empty vessel to inject their beliefs into mainstream politics.
“The president is actually keeping his promises that he made two years ago,” said Tony Perkins, head of the right-wing Family Research Council. But now, Perkins warned, Trump’s agenda “is actually in jeopardy … because so many evangelicals and conservatives are frustrated” and may not show up to vote this fall.
“We need to communicate to evangelical leaders the importance of conservatives, evangelicals, Christians being involved in the process,” he added, explaining why they were arranging the meeting with Trump.
Perkins and his fellow evangelical leaders have decided to put politics over prayer, and now they’re hoping to convince the rest of their movement to join them.
The hypocrisy of their actions is not a surprise at this point. What is surprising, however, is that they’re willing to fundamentally alter the course of the American evangelical movement in the name of a man who not only rejects Christian values, but does so without an ounce of remorse.