Just before the White House began its celebration of National Prayer Day on Thursday morning, CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins was recording a live shot about the revelation that President Trump reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for $130,000 in hush money paid to the porn actress Stormy Daniels. You can see in the clip that some faithful attendees didn’t care for Collins’ hit, and one later told her she was “pitiful and disgusting.”
Trump, meanwhile, dutifully performed his impression of a man who cares about God. Remarks were prepared for a ceremony with faith leaders in the Rose Garden, but Trump veered off script some time around “one nation under God.”
“And we say it here,” the presidential riff began. “And you know, a lot of people, they don’t say it.” From there, it was time to draw from Fox News’ culture-war coverage, the source of the president’s theology. “They’re starting to say it more,” he said, “just like we’re starting to say merry Christmas when that day comes around.” He attributed the change to himself. “You notice the big difference between now and two or three years ago?” he said. “It was going in the other direction rapidly.”
Days like today, in which the president tries to deliver a stilted speech on faith while the entire news world is focused on the hush money he paid to a porn actress, provide an opportunity to re-examine the question of why the religious right is so devoted to Donald Trump.
But it’s really a silly question, if the tiresome point is just that it’s full of hypocrites, which it usually is. In fact, there’s a great answer for why the religious right is fawning over Trump: because it’s shrewd.
The most significant news in American politics today is not that the president’s fixer paid off a porn actress, or that Americans are increasingly saying merry Christmas in May. The real news, which we’ll be grappling with for decades, comes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In a Thursday radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, McConnell stated that his goal for the remainder of the year is “to confirm all the circuit and district court judges that come out of committee this calendar year. All of them.” Despite Senate Democrats’ attempts to slow the pace to a crawl, McConnell’s Senate has already confirmed 15 appeals court judges and plans to do six more next week. Note, too, that he said these confirmations would be his priority through the calendar year, not through midterms. If Democrats take the Senate, the lame-duck sessions will be especially busy with confirmations.
“What I want to do is make a lasting contribution to the country,” McConnell told Hewitt. “And by appointing and confirming these strict constructionists to the courts who are in their late 40s or early 50s, I believe working in conjunction with the administration, we’re making a generational change in our country that will be repeated over and over and over down through the years.”
The Trump presidency has been an unalloyed success for the religious right. It wanted “generational change” in the federal judiciary, and it’s getting it.
Policy doesn’t explain the affinity so many evangelicals have for Trump the person. For that, the religious right deploys King David and a lot of denial. This is where you get, say, Franklin Graham arguing on television that Trump is a changed man from his previous, sinful ways, when it’s obvious to the naked eye that Trump hasn’t devoted a second of his life toward introspection or maturation. It would make everyone’s life much easier if those like Graham just abolished the pretense that a politician’s personal life mattered at all, that the religious right is in the same transactional business as any other special-interest group, and that white evangelicals appreciate Trump for getting on liberals’ nerves just as much as, if not more than, any other Trump supporters do.
The transaction has been great for the religious right, and it’s in its obvious political self-interest to support Trump. So it does. Putting all concerns aside and focusing solely on the judicial confirmation count is a fine political practice, and one that Democratic voters would do well to consider.