So what do we know about the sordid affair of Stormy Daniels? We have plenty of reasons to believe that President Trump paid the porn actress $130,000 to keep their sexual encounters silent. There is some evidence that she faced physical threats due to the need to keep her silent as well. Some may argue that she was paid off so that she would not be a nuisance to Trump but does anyone seriously doubt the willingness of Trump to have an affair with a porn actress? Me neither.
I guess it is another day at the office of this new type of president who seems to thrive on being controversial. Scandals seem to follow him everywhere. And yet his supporters do not leave him. I believe he was right when he said he could shoot someone and his loyal supporters would still be loyal.
Does that loyalty extend to the conservative Christian supporters as well? I am afraid so. Remember that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him even after the Hollywood Access tape where he bragged about being able to molest women. It was also well known that he cheated on his previous two wives, so the idea that he is cheating on his current wife is not a surprise. I do not think his evangelical supporters are going anywhere because he bedded a porn actress. I do not think they are going anywhere even though he paid the porn actress off. Finally, do not forget that since Trump became the Republican candidate, white evangelicals have all of a sudden decided that moral values are not important in our political leaders.
If you had any doubt about the willingness of evangelicals to support Trump despite his romp with the porn actress, then you have no need to go any further than pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas. He stated clearly that Trump’s moral behavior would have no impact on whether he deserved the support of evangelicals. Obviously Jeffress does not speak for every evangelical who supports Trump but he does speak for a great many of them who have made it clear that they have Trump’s “back.”
So what happened to people who used to talk so much about moral leaders. I think it happened like this. Many of my evangelical friends were disgusted with Trump in the primary. They supported someone else precisely because of the moral stain that is in Trump’s life. Many of them truly were confused and disheartened by his nomination. Some of them decided to vote third party. Some of them decided not to vote at all. Some (although not very many) may have even voted for Clinton.
But what most of them did was made a deal. They had a fear of a Clinton presidency. The fear was not unfounded. Few evangelicals doubted that they were in the “basket of deplorables” Clinton was talking about. There was already evidence that progressives like Clinton had little concern for the religious freedom of Christians, some of them going as far as firing a lay pastor for what he preached in the pulpit. And then there is the issue of abortion. If you believe that abortion is taking a human life, then supporting a candidate who wants to fight to fund that atrocity is out of bounds.
Given these issues, these evangelicals decided that they would adopt the moral reprobate instead of the progressive cultural warrior who did not respect their religious freedom. I think in their minds they thought that they did not like much of what Trump did or the way he lived his life. But they were certain that he would not attack them and maybe they would even get a few laws they liked out of his presidency. I do not agree with this bargain. But I do understand the thinking behind it.
There are social-psychological reasons why this is true. We have a strong need to justify our decisions. We want to believe that we made the best decision given our current situation. So we look for reasons to justify a decision after it is made. Once conservative Christians decided that they were going to support Trump, they had to continue to find reasons to justify that decision. This meant that as information comes out about Trump’s immorality or corruption, then they will have powerful motivation to defend him. White evangelicals are not unusual in their desire to find justification for their decisions. But as David French has pointed out they have neither covered themselves in glory since they have reacted to Trump’s presidency just like any other special interest group.
This is the slippery slope I feared when I saw so many of my fellow evangelicals started to support Trump. I figured that once they decided to support him, they would continue to support Trump no matter what he did. Once you “buy” Trump, the price to your reputation gets higher and higher as the low character of the man continues to reveal itself. At this point in history there are a lot of non-Christians or moderate Christians who wonder is there anything Trump can do to lose the support of Christians. My answer to them is “not much.”
I think that many of my evangelical friends do not realize that there will be a long-term cost to this nearly unconditional support of President Trump. I simply cannot see his exit from the political scene to be a benign process. His temperament and desire to lash out continues to poison our political environments and creates unnecessary enemies. Those who are linked to him will inherit those enemies and the negativity Trump generates. And today white evangelicals will be on the hook for all of those bad vibes. They will be seen as those who sold their souls to get a Supreme Court Judge. That assessment seems to be harsh, but I cannot say that it is completely wrong.