Trump campaign hires religious outreach director

Trump campaign hires religious outreach director August 19, 2016

The Wall Street Journal‘s Reed Epstein has the story:

MILWAUKEE — Donald Trump’s campaign told social conservative allies Wednesday that it had hired former Sarah Palin aide Pam Pryor to lead its “faith and Christian outreach.”

In the email Wednesday morning, Trump aide Alan Cobb wrote that Ms. Pryor “will be leading our Trump for President Religious outreach.”

“She will be focused on faith and Christian outreach for the campaign and will report directly to me,” Mr. Cobb wrote. “I will still stay involved, but Pam will be able to produce more work and communications that we can get to our faith board and to the community at large; more social media activity, more events etc.”

Not much surprising here, except maybe that it took so long to formally get a staffer in this position. But with a broad campaign shake-up this week, Pryor’s hire makes sense at this time. Jonathan Merritt at The Atlantic has a helpful piece on the subject.

Throughout most of the nominating contest, Trump relied on a cast of clergy supporters and faith advisers that were pretty far outside the conservative evangelical and Republican Party mainstream. For one thing, most of the respectable/professional/career faith-and-politics partisans were working for other campaigns. Though the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump in 2016, the primary field had over a dozen candidates with strong ties to the Christian right political movement.

Image credit: Morguefile
Image credit: Morguefile

But it’s not like Trump sought the experienced faith-outreach campaign veterans and was spurned. Rather, he occasionally conferred with, appeared with, and was photographed with prosperity-gospel preachers and faith leaders with little mainstream recognition. Then he received the endorsement of Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr

., who lent a certain kind of legitimacy to Trump among a subset of aging Christian conservatives.

After retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (whom Trump called “pathological” and compared to a child molester) dropped out of the race, he helped the billionaire candidate navigate relationships with some faith leaders. Former politician and FOX News commentator Mike Huckabee also reached out to Trump.

Much later, it was revealed that other religious right veterans, most notably Ralph Reed, made overtures to Trump years ago. And by the time Trump had sown up the GOP nomination, a significant majority of the Christian right leadership was in his corner. (There were and are, of course, notable holdouts.)

So what does Pam Pryor bring to the Trump campaign? She’s well-known in conservative campaign and advocacy circles. Pryor cut her teeth in Oklahoma politics, working as a senior aide to Rep. J.C. Watts, then the only black Republican in Congress. She was more recently a senior advisor to Sarah Palin, who endorsed Trump in January ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Trump seems to follow his own instincts when it comes to connecting with evangelicals. He intuitively understands that conservative voters in the aggregate loathe Hillary Clinton with burning passion and do not care a whit about his lack of religious devotion. Trump also thinks little of issues that greatly concern evangelical leaders, but repeatedly parrots a line about giving churches more power and allowing them to engage in more partisan politics without losing their tax exemptions.

The GOP nominee has also made explicit promises to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices. This may be the only thing Pryor has to keep coming back to. Conservative religious voters don’t have to like Trump. They just have to be convinced and reminded that if they vote for Clinton or stay home, they are complicit in enabling her pro-abortion regime.

I’ll be watching closely to see whether and how the addition of Pam Pryor and a coordinated faith outreach effort helps or hinders the Trump campaign.

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