Sunday, January 31, 2016

GOP Candidates Divide the Religious Right

The battle for dominance between GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz is splitting the Religious Right. Cruz continues to garner support from right-wing Christian leaders, while Trump is making powerful friends and powerful enemies alike among Religious Right figures.

In an earlier post, Republic of Gilead observed that Cruz was trumpeting new endorsements by International House of Prayer pastor Mike Bickle, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, and multiple leaders from the anti-feminist Eagle Forum. Not long after that post, Cruz also won endorsements from Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, former Texas governor Rick Perry, the Benham brothers, Glenn Beck, and the heads of the Bott Radio Network (a Christian talk radio network). If these endorsements are any indication, Cruz has been wooing the Religious Right like a paramour.

Trump, too, has received support from prominent Religious Right leaders. For example, Texas pastor and radio host Robert Jeffress warmly introduced Trump at two Christian colleges, according to One News Now and the Dallas Morning News. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.) Jeffress' support may be a mixed blessing for Trump, as Jeffress' anti-Mormon statements may alienate conservative Mormon voters.

Other endorsements have stirred controversy among Religious Right leaders. When Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump's campaign, as reported by the Washington Post, several conservative Christian leaders looked askance at his decision. Michael Brown, Robert Vander Plaats, and David French were among the commentators criticizing Falwell's decision. The outcry became so loud that Falwell felt compelled to pen a defense of his decision. Trump, it seems, is a divisive figure among conservative Christians because of his moral character.

The deepest fissures dividing the Religious Right have to do with the candidates' stance on abortion. In late January, nearly a dozen anti-abortion activists released a statement scorning Trump for his misogyny and insufficient devotion to the anti-abortion cause. Leaders from Concerned Women for America, Susan B. Anthony List, and Iowa Right to Life signed their names to the document, which will undoubtedly have a strong impact on anti-abortion voters. (Hat tip to Washington Post.)
"Dear Iowans,

As pro-life women leaders from Iowa and across the nation, we urge Republican caucus-goers and voters to support anyone but Donald Trump. On the issue of defending unborn children and protecting women from the violence of abortion, Mr. Trump cannot be trusted and there is, thankfully, an abundance of alternative candidates with proven records of pro-life leadership whom pro-life voters can support. We have come to this conclusion after having listened patiently to numerous debates and news reports, but most importantly to Donald Trump’s own words.

The next president will be responsible for as many as four nominations to the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump has given us only one indication about the type of judges he would appoint, and it does not bode well for those who would like to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade. Mr. Trump has said his sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who struck down the Partial Birth Abortion Ban in New Jersey, would be a “phenomenal” choice for the court. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump also said he thought pro-choice Senator Scott Brown would make a “very good” Vice President. If one truly believes, as we do, that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life and is committed to the pro-life priorities of ending abortion after five months, and defunding the nation’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, it would be a disaster to have a vice president who disagrees.

Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.

America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate."
The anti-abortion movement's rejection of Trump came at the same time as the debut of Cruz's anti-abortion coalition. According to a press release at the Cruz campaign website, the Pro-Lifers for Cruz Coalition will be chaired by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and populated by prominent anti-abortion activists.

Pro-Lifers for Cruz participated in a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on January 27th. At the 47:45 mark of this C-SPAN video of the rally, Tony Perkins explained the stakes of the GOP power struggle. The Religious Right's dissension over Trump and Cruz makes more sense when one realizes that the right wants a Republican president who will appoint far-right Supreme Court justices. In the eyes of many right-wing leaders, Cruz can be trusted to do so, while Trump cannot.
"I'm here in this Coalition for Life because there is nothing more fundamental than the right to life. And we look at what has happened in this country--let's just take the last forty-three years. On Friday, I stood on the mall in Washington D.C. for the March for Life. Forty-three years ago, the Supreme Court declared that a child was a choice, rather than something to be cared for that was made in the image of its creator. That wasn't something that the people decided. It wasn't even something that the state legislatures on the Congress decided. It was the courts.

And then we go back to June 26th of this past year when the court -- five judges on the court -- declared that they knew better than fifty million people when they imposed on the entire nation a redefinition of marriage. Now, when you look at all of the things that we care about ... the court is directing this country. The next president will appoint two or three Supreme Court justices. This issue's being lost on a lot of people in this election. Unfortunately, the court does decide the culture of this country ... Ted Cruz is a strict constitutionalist. He can pick 'em out. If there's one person in this election for president that I want picking the next two or three Supreme Court justices, it's Ted Cruz." 
The discord over Trump and Cruz spells good news and bad news. The good news is that without solid Religious Right support, Trump may not be able to unite GOP voters. Without that unity, he may not secure the Republican nomination. This thought is comforting to those of us who don't want Trump anywhere near a seat of political power. Of course, with Trump's strong poll numbers, Trump may have enough critical mass to succeed without united Religious Right backing.

The bad news is that Cruz remains a viable candidate for the Republican nomination. With solid backing by Religious Right leaders, plenty of right-wing voters trust Cruz as a Christian candidate who will carry out their agenda. Cruz's anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Wall of Separation platform is not in America's best interest, and for that reason, I cringe at the idea of Cruz as the Republican nominee. If Cruz secures his party's nomination (and that grows increasingly plausible each day), whether or not he can win the presidency depends on the performance of the Democratic nominee.

EDIT -- Or am I just being pessimistic? Would Trump's arrogance and ignorance alienate sane voters, even if he won the nomination? Would Cruz's far-right agenda disgust moderates and progressives, without whom he could not win the presidential election? Is the current crop of Republican candidates simply too repugnant to win in November? We can hope.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

NPR: Donald Trump Tests Culture And Character Priorities For Evangelicals

Mother Jones: Ted Cruz's New Anti-Choice Group Is Headed by a Guy Who Thinks Abortion Caused the Drought

Right Wing Watch: Cruz Pro-Life Coalition Leader: U.S. Can't 'Survive Another 40 Years Of Roe v. Wade'


  1. It seems that the real division within the Christian Right over this issue is between the leadership and the rank-and-file. As your own examples show, Cruz has been endorsed by many Christian Right leaders, Trump by far fewer -- and of those, Falwell came under criticism for his choice.

    But the mass of Evangelical voters seems to be becoming more open to Trump. At first they were not, which is why for a while he lagged behind Cruz in the polls in Iowa, where Evangelicals dominate the Republican party. But now he's leading there, which means he must be attracting significant Evangelical support after all, despite how few his endorsements from the leaders are.

    This is odd given that there's little that's explicitly Christian about Trump. The key may be that (strangely enough) many Republicans believe Trump is their most electable candidate. Some Evangelicals may prefer a flawed candidate they think can win over a devout candidate (Cruz) who seems doomed to lose to Hillary.

    It matters, because if Cruz loses in a state as tailor-made for him as Iowa, his campaign is probably finished and Trump will have plain sailing to the nomination. Trump's ability to accomplish this, in the teeth of most of the Evangelical leadership endorsing his rival, will be the strongest affirmation yet of the frightening appeal (to Republicans) of this extraordinarily dangerous man.

    1. Infidel -- True, the latest polls do show Trump in the lead among potential caucus-goers and evangelicals.

      If Cruz and co. can convince evangelicals and other assorted right-wingers that Trump's word cannot be trusted, I wonder if Trump's lead will shrink. The question is, can he do it before the Iowa caucus? It's a risky proposition, given Trump's strong following.

    2. The question is, can he do it before the Iowa caucus?

      Given that that now means within less than 24 hours, I seriously doubt it.

      Right now, I don't believe there's any possibility of stopping Trump from winning the nomination. I don't believe there ever was any chance of stopping him from winning it. The rules of this game have changed.

      There may be some chance of turning Evangelical voters against Trump in the general election. But given that Evangelicals will never support Hillary (or Bernie), it's going to take delicacy and nuance to do it in a useful way.

  2. This political spectacle is a circus and a nightmare at the same time. Either Cruz or Trump would be a disaster. As you pointed out, Cruz is an Establishment favorite for obvious reasons.

    But it's mind-boggling to me that an egomaniacal man who is clearly incapable of having a reasoned conversation and who, when held accountable for his bad behavior, regresses into a seven-year-old boy throwing a tantrum and hurling juvenile insults, is considered a viable presidential candidate.

    And yet the party will solidly get behind Trump if he wins the nomination. Jon Huntsman said as much just recently - that if Trump gets the nomination he will wholeheartedly support him.

    Typing that just made me speechless. I don't know what else to say. Wake me when it's over.

    1. Agi Tater -- I can't understand it either. I can give my usual explanation -- Trump appeals to the right-wing id -- but you'd think that even right-wingers would recognize his inadequacy and immaturity by now. Some voters just aren't very smart, I guess.


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