At the 2015 Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, D.C., Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump struggled at times to win over the crowd of about 2,700 far-right fundamentalist Christians.
When the twice-divorced real estate developer and reality television star called U.S. Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a "clown" during the Family Research Council's (FRC) confab last October, he was met with loud boos from the audience. Thus, it was not surprising that Trump earned just 5 percent in the VVS presidential straw poll--well behind evangelical favorites like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rubio.
But within seven months of his stumble at that conference, Trump was the last man standing in the 2016 Republican presidential race--having defeated all the candidates who finished ahead of him in the VVS poll. Certainly, this must have been a bitter pill for the Religious Right to swallow, given that much of its leadership backed the likes of Cruz, Rubio and Carson throughout the primary season.
Faced with the possibility of at least four more years of another Democratic president, however, most high-ranking Religious Right figures have wasted little time throwing their support behind Trump under the guise that he is essentially the lesser of two evils. But what does it say about a movement supposedly anchored in "biblical morality" when its kingmakers quickly abandoned some of their cherished principles in order to support a presidential candidate who had never claimed to be a man of faith until recently?
It was not always this way. There was a time--not long ago--when most Religious Right leaders fiercely opposed Trump. Let's journey all the way back to January, when FRC President Tony Perkins formally endorsed Cruz for president. That move came as no surprise, given that Cruz, the son of an evangelical pastor, has proudly carried the Religious Right's banner for years. In February, Perkins really laid it on thickly for Cruz, claiming that if the Texan were not elected president, the 2016 election might be the nation's last--ever.
"We don't have the latitude to get it wrong one more time," Perkins warned. "If we don't elect a bold, courageous, godly leader in this next election, I'm afraid we may not have another election for our republic. That's not hyperbole. That's the reality based upon what this president's policies have done to this nation."
Perkins wasn't alone at that time in his ardent opposition to Trump. In a February column for the American Family Association's (AFA) OneNewsNow, American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer said Trump could be just as bad for the Religious Right as President Barack Obama has been.
"Here's the sobering reality: if Trump becomes our next president, conservatives will have to fight against him almost as hard as we've had to fight against [Obama]," Fischer declared.
Fischer went on to list a number of things the Religious Right would have to battle Trump over, including "the homosexual agenda," U.S. Supreme Court nominations, private property rights, immigration and even Islam--despite Trump's stated desire to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
"His loud declamations on suspending Islamic immigration are just that loud declamations," opined Fischer. "Anyone familiar with his negotiating style knows that his opening bid is always outrageously and unrealistically huge by design. It gives him room to make concessions and settle for what he thought he actually could get all along."
But AFA didn't stop there. Its political action committee in February released a "voter guide" that classified Trump as a "moderate," which is basically a dirty word in far-right circles.
The AFA left no doubt which candidate it favored: The only candidate AFA classified as "very conservative" was Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was also called moderate, and Carson was labeled "somewhat conservative," even though he is clearly opposed to church-state separation and ran as hard right. Rubio was dubbed merely "conservative. "
As the primary season wore on, the AFA issued fresh attacks on Trump on an almost daily basis. The assaults ground to a halt after the Indiana primary May 3. Billed as a "must win" for Cruz, who struggled to stop Trump's nearly unbroken momentum throughout...