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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest. From May 12th, 2022. It’s the Why did White Evangelicals Get So Angry? Edition I’m David Plotz of City Cast. I’m here in Washington, D.C.. Back from vacation. Woefully load simply unhappily back from vacation. I am joined.
S2: By Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School from New Haven, Connecticut. Emily, welcome. Hello.
S1: I’m glad you’re back from vacation.
S2: And you have a new family member. You have a new child. Congratulations.
S1: I have a new dog. Yes, Rosie has arrived. May we all survive?
S2: All Emily has been doing is talking about Rosie, sending pictures of Rosie, chronicling Rosie sleep. Well, maybe we’ll have a cameo from Rosie at some point on the Gabfest.
S3: Is Rosie named after someone in particular, or do you just like Rosie or are you fan of Rosie the Riveter? Or do you like the Rose, the flower?
S1: Rosie the Riveter was an inspiration. Really. Rosie was an inspiration. Our congresswoman’s name is Rosa DeLauro. I thought that was kind of funny.
S2: It’s overdetermined. Overdetermined. That was John DICKERSON of CBS Sunday Morning from New York, where he is. He’s recuperating. Hello, John.
S3: Hi, David. Hi, Emily. People who may not know because you would have no reason to know they’re recuperating is that we all in our family got COVID and still have it according to the testing. So that’s what’s up with us. That’s why I wasn’t with you last week, which I was very sad not to be with you, but it was a good it was a very good show, but sorry not to be with you. So a part of my convalescence is the happiness of being with you. Now.
S2: This week on the Gabfest what will happen to abortion laws? In a post Roe America will look at the state landscape, the national landscape, the moral landscape. Then, is Trump getting more or less powerful in the Republican Party? What do this week’s primary results tell us about that question then? White American evangelicals have gotten extraordinarily political and conservative and quite angry recently. What is behind the political potency of this new religious right? We will talk with Ruth Graham of The New York Times, who covers that movement. Plus, of course, we’re going to have cocktail chatter. One thing is pretty clear. If the Supreme Court goes ahead and wipes out Roe, the post ROE landscape is going to be extremely chaotic in this country. In the days since the draft opinion leaked, we’ve already seen all kinds of movement in all kinds of directions to protect but more to disparage abortion rights. So Louisiana is considering a bill to criminalize abortion as murder. The Mississippi governor has declined to say if his state would consider banning contraception. Missouri is planning to bar its citizens from going out of state to get an abortion or is trying to do that. The Senate, quite warmly, Senate Democrats quite openly on Wednesday tried to pass a bill creating a national right to abortion or codifying Roe, but couldn’t even muster a majority for that. So, Emily, I want to start actually with Missouri, which seems like the most alarming. I suspect that the threat that is most likely to be relevant to most Americans when it comes to when it comes to their own personal abortion rights. So Missouri wants to do what? To prevent people from going to get an abortion and is what they’re trying to do. Is it legal? Because it sounds on its face to me like, wow, they’re going to prevent me from going somewhere else to do something. They’re going to prevent me from traveling and then doing something when I travel. Can they really do that?
S1: Right. Good question. Yeah. So Missouri is trying to criminalize going out of state to get an abortion. There are other states that talk about this with regard to minors as opposed to adults. I assumed that the freedom to travel among the states is so bedrock in terms of constitutional law that this legislation would have no chance of being upheld whatsoever. But then I read an analysis by Michael Dorf, who’s a law professor who’s really smart, and he seemed to think that there were actually arguments on both sides that it was plausible that a Supreme Court like this one could uphold such a statute, which I really would prefer not to believe is the case. But it’s not actually a completely settled question. This question of how much freedom to travel obtains when a state is trying to prevent you from leaving to do something that is illegal in your home state. So, I mean, look, obviously people don’t have to say why they’re leaving. Right. Like, there is what you could theoretically be prosecuted for and then there is what will actually happen.
S2: Isn’t it also a bounty law? Isn’t it one of these bounty laws, too? So it’s not. It is. It is. Yes. It allows citizens of Missouri to then sue you or something.
S1: Right. I mean, this is the new enforcement mechanism of choice by right wing politicians right now. We saw it with SB eight, the abortion bill in Texas, which the Supreme Court has allowed to stand. We’ve seen it with the don’t seek a bill in Florida. This idea that we’re going to turn each other in and you know that the state is going to turn over its enforcement powers, that itself is so noxious, as we’ve talked about before, that I keep waiting for the Supreme Court to find a reason to say, no, no, no, this is not the way we want to go, America. But they haven’t yet. So that remains out there. You’re absolutely right. Is this kind of separate legal threat?
S2: I also find it morally abhorrent that this idea that we’re going to turn each other in and it’s a nation of narcs. On the other hand, I want you, Emily or Eugene, if you want to disaggregate for me to explain to me why this is different from being a whistleblower, calling foul on somebody who is dumping sewage onto into a public stream or doing something else that’s illegal, but which which is a different kind of crime. Like they’re both cross. I mean, in this view, abortion would be a crime, in fact, extremely violent crime against a person. And so the idea that people would be reporting it and and and calling out that crime, how is that different than people reporting and calling out other crimes?
S1: Well, so there’s a few things going on. I mean, most whistleblower statutes are not like a personal lawsuit where you’re going bounty hunting all by yourself. Right. That’s one, too. I mean, we do have statutes like the Americans with Disabilities Act in which we the government, has enforcement powers. That’s different from SB eight and Texas, where the government has zero enforcement powers. That’s why at least the pretext why the Supreme Court gave for not striking down that law. The government has enforcement powers. Private citizens are also being relied on to report infractions. And so you can make money from going around and like trying to make sure that, you know, the ramps are of the correct height, etc., etc., that people can really sit and stand and access the way the law requires. There is, however, this notion that we’re protecting a larger civil right that involves more than just you. Now, I mean, maybe that distinction falls apart for a lot of people, because if you really think abortion is murder, then you are protecting someone other than. Just you are there is this larger, good, common good. And so I think you’re absolutely right that abortion opponents are invoking that notion of a common good and of solidarity among citizens for upholding the law. It’s just that it’s an incredibly invasive thing to do to somebody else. Right. It’s like this. I mean, this is the thing about I mean, there are many things to say, but the sort of basic question about whether access to a legal abortion is a human right and a civil right or whether it’s a wrong, whether those rights you belong to the fetus and not who or what deserves protection here. Like that’s the fundamental crux of the dispute. And so all these questions about how these laws are framed, a position really come down to that.
S2: Another battlefield, Emily, is medical abortion and access to drugs that people get, pills that they would get to to induce an abortion fairly early in their pregnancy. And the states that ban abortion will certainly ban those pills. But, of course, things get mailed all the time to people. What’s going to happen or what’s likely to happen around people seeking to get mailed to them in Texas, mailed to them in Mississippi, mailed to them in West Virginia.
S1: So this is the thing that I’m watching with probably the most interest. I mean, alongside this question of travel, the abortion pills, we know from lots of research, some of it during COVID, by the way, are extremely safe and effective. Women can manage them at home. You don’t actually need to go see a doctor. It doesn’t mean you don’t need advice, but you can find that advice and counsel on the Internet if you are trying to get the pills prescribed to you into a state where that is already illegal. There is an organization called Aid Access that’s based in Europe that will still send to in Texas that is already illegal or restricted in 19 states. So there are 19 states that have bans on telemedicine for medication abortion that go far above and beyond what the federal FDA requirements are for getting one of those prescriptions. That’s another big legal question Could Congress preempt those state laws? Also, can liberal states decide to provide protections for abortion providers who prescribe across state lines in this manner? So Connecticut, my state actually has done the most in this regard so far. Connecticut passed a bill earlier this month that would provide these legal protections for abortion providers. Here I was talking to Jillian Gilchrist, who’s the state representative who was behind this bill, along with Matt Blumenthal, another state rep. And she said that they they thought about this law in terms of women patients coming into Connecticut from other states. So the kind of Missouri example from before, but actually the way it’s written, it sounds to me like it would also protect providers prescribing across state lines. Now, that doesn’t mean that’s about to happen tomorrow. There are also questions about protecting people’s medical licenses, about malpractice insurance. This is all a really big deal. A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with someone who’s like an extremely experienced litigator in pro-choice world. And I brought up this idea of states not cooperating like Texas wants to say that a doctor in Connecticut committed a felony and asked Connecticut to extradite that doctor. And the lawyer I was talking to was totally dismissive. She was like, That is not a thing. We have not done that since the Fugitive Slave Act. The states cooperate with each other, so it is a big deal. On the other hand, I don’t see how we get through the end of row without civil disobedience on some significant scale. Women, pregnant people can do this on their own by ordering the abortion pills through India and having them come in the mail. And you’re right, searching the federal mail is presumably not something that states are going to willy nilly be able to do. But the idea that there aren’t going to be American abortion providers involved, not just after you get the pills, because that you can already find there are hotlines for that, but also to help you get the pills. The women we are the most concerned about in this new emerging landscape are poor people who have low information. And I think that they’re going to need some help. And so it’s going to be really interesting to see how all of that develops.
S2: But I will bet $1,000, $1,000 that anybody that there will be in the next two years, some abortion provider who is arrested at Dallas Fort Worth or arrested driving through Mississippi, you know, on their way somewhere else, because state law enforcement is like, oh, we’re going to get this person who’s a Connecticut abortion doctor.
S1: Walsh providing about gas, although I would say about my legal hypothetical is you would have to not go to Texas. Right. Like this is you only can have protections that are reliable if you don’t go.
S2: To the right. No, but. But imagine a world or. Imagine a country where huge numbers of people just are unwilling to travel to other states because they feel they’re in legal jeopardy. Traveling and making a connection, a flight connection at the at the airport in Indianapolis.
S1: Right. So that is the sort of Handmaid’s Tale future that, you know, could await us. I mean, I’ll also say I’ve been thinking a lot about Ireland. So for many years, Ireland had really, really, basically had a ban on abortion in the way that you got abortion, as you either crossed the channel and you went to England or there was an underground network of activists who rebelled and revolted and they told people how to get the pill and they helped them and some of them risked criminal prosecution and actually were prosecuted. And they were sort of loud and proud about it for really good reason. We have not reached that point in the United States and I hope we don’t. But I think that those things that seemed unthinkable about how we’re going to operate are becoming thinkable again. I mean, in the 1960s, we had the Jane Collective in Chicago that women train themselves to do abortions and they did them illegally, but they did them as safely as possible because they knew how vital that was.
S3: One of the things that about this moment is so many things that and this has been true of the last four or five years, maybe some people would say longer, so many things that we were able to relatively safely say that’s not going to happen. There was like a buffer between the vigilance you needed for diminishment of rights or outrageousness kind of at the margin, like how big could that buffer be? But I have a more immediate question, Emily, which is whether you think that a national abortion ban through the Senate is a more kind of easier, clearer target or possibility. Because what strikes me is that all the people who’ve raised money and raised enthusiasm on the abortion issue have to still be out there. So as you mentioned, they’ll go they’ll they’ll talk about abortion through the mail. But there are other places where they can seek donations and seek agitation. And one of them would be having the Senate Republicans, if they take over after 2020, to get rid of the filibuster and pass an actual abortion ban.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I think that is totally on the table. You’re absolutely right. We have this very energized force in the political right. They waited 50 years for this. They were incredibly dedicated. They got their Supreme Court justices into position. I mean, it’s this huge success from the conservative legal movement and, you know, religious and social conservatives more generally. And you can tell from talking to them and reading about them and watching them on TV that they are energized. A national abortion ban would politically seem to be a big overreach, right? A majority of Americans want abortion to be legal most or all of the time. The idea that we’re not going to have abortion anywhere in the country and that, you know, people are going to stand for that. That seems like quite a heavy lift. But as you said, unthinkable. Things are becoming thinkable.
S3: The fact that Mitch McConnell said there might be a national abortion ban or at least played footsie with that idea. So McConnell has said we won’t get a get rid of the filibuster. But, you know, lots of things have been said and then they changed. Right. Like precedent matter as well. No, maybe it doesn’t. So the notion that McConnell’s claim that he doesn’t want to do away with the filibuster, you know, things change. And also McConnell might not be there forever. So. So that’s one thing. The other thing that and so I guess the fact that McConnell even mentioned it out loud suggests because he is such a tactician and and has such an understanding of where his party is, that you could imagine one interpretation being that his view is that suggesting a national abortion ban is is an inducement to Republican voters to go vote for Republican candidates because it’s a it’s a prize they might win. And that that prize his evaluation and he’s had some success in life. His evaluation is it’s more of a spur to Republican voters than it is to Democratic voters. So to follow that out, the argument would be, yes, Democratic voters don’t want Roe overturned. But the but once you go past that, the feelings about abortion are complex and that in a campaign context, that complexity creates a situation in which basically an insufficient number of people and insufficient number of new people are energized to go vote for Democrats. They kind of see it as a big mass and they just don’t engage. What’s this seems to me to be a central test of Democrats because this isn’t just about a key issue Democrats have been in favor of, which is abortion rights. It is an argument about you could argue if you were a Democrat, you would say this is a of a piece this is of a piece with people writing at it at the Capitol and using power the raw exercise of power to get what they want that this is of a piece with. Donald Trump in the way he ran his presidency, that what’s happening here is is that power is being used to deny women this choice. And whatever your views may be on abortion, that this attaches to a larger assault, and that this assault is not just some conspiracy theory, that this is a long planned operation that has happened in multiple different places. If you were a Democrat, that seems to me that is the argument you make and that that energizes voters on a broader platform than simply the question of abortion, that this this is becomes a part of a of a larger story you could tell if you were Republicans, which also would include denying Garland’s nomination.
S2: You know, it’s weird. Like I, I feel like this is an incredible political victory that was earned through political strategy. Now, not all of it was it was pretty ruthless political strategy. It was ruthless not to have a hearing on Garland, but it was. This is not like rioting at the Capitol. This is this is just a long game of of incredible precision and brilliance that masterminded by abortion, anti-abortion activists and and by people like Mitch McConnell.
S3: I think that’s I think that’s a a keen distinction that you’re drawing. What I would and I and I’m speaking in voice here, so it’s a little tricky. But I think what the argument would be is that it whether it’s in the political realm or the riots of the sex, which are outside of the political realm, when the Republican project runs up against an obstacle, whether it’s the norm of advise and consent that calls for an actual hearing or whether it’s the norm of accepting election results, they will go plus one. They will do what is necessary to do to retain their power position. And that we’ve seen multiple instances of that, maybe not all of the same amplitude, but when they come up upon a barrier, they will go plus one. And that that is that has been seen in enough different spaces that you’ve got to assume that this is basically the way they operate and that if you care about anything, the normal barriers that are going to protect the thing you care about, there will always be an effort of plus one to go after that thing you care about, and so you should be energized and vote people into office. I’m not suggesting people do anything outside of the normal, but I’m just saying if you were trying to construct a motivational argument for a Democratic Party that is in the doldrums, that doesn’t rely singularly on abortion, that there is a larger narrative that it seems to me that some clever Democrat could probably put together that is not histrionic, that’s not conspiratorial, that has specific things that can be pointed to. If there were a Democratic Party that were, you know, energized by a leader who could make and repeat this case.
S1: I just wanted to note two things that I thought were strategically smart on the side of abortion opponents. One was that I noticed abortion opponent leaders saying we would support a national six week ban or a 15 week ban like not having a fight about a purity test. Just saying like both of those sound good to us. That seemed like smart discipline. And the other thing I just want to say is, like we are talking about forced pregnancy for tens of thousands of women. Like that’s what is at stake here. I think sometimes we just sort of forget what it actually means. And I have been reading about the early abortion rights cases that were pre Roe in they begin in New York in 1970. And it was a different tactic, legally speaking from Roe, the lawyers who brought them amassed hundreds of plaintiffs. They wanted judges who were almost all men at the time to hear stories. And I was reading back and some of the testimony and, you know, people were standing on blindfolded, on corners and being driven all over the place and going to dirty offices and risking their health. And someone went to the gynecologist in Poughkeepsie, you know, weeks later, because she was still bleeding. And the person said they were going to call the police on her and send her to jail. And women were being forced to have babies and giving them up for adoption and feeling just overwhelmed by guilt and trauma about that. That’s the world of illegal abortion.
S2: Slate Plus members, you get bonus segments on the Gabfest every week and our Slate Plus segment this week. What are the ludicrous things that we do now that would have horrified our 25 year old selves? So we will talk about things, the ways in which the ways in which you come to embarrass yourself. Former President Trump has been endorsing candidates and races across the country. In the midterm races, he’s endorsed dozens, maybe nearly 100 at this point, usually incumbents. He’s particularly keen on endorsing candidates who are running against people who voted to certify the 2020 election or who voted for the infrastructure bill. And until this week, he had gone 55 for 55, 55 candidates endorsed, 55 had won their primaries. He had his latest test this week in Nebraska and West Virginia. How did he do, John?
S3: Well, he went in the big races. He went one for one. Basically, Alex Mooney won in the West Virginia, two Republican primary. That was the that was the Trump candidate. Very important and interesting race there, which we could talk about more. But David McKinney was the one who voted for the infrastructure bill. And that’s really important because this isn’t just Trump versus and MAGA versus the GOP establishment. This is whether the notion of voting for anything on a bipartisan basis, it runs you out of the party. And that’s not just been tested in this West Virginia, too. But also, you’ll remember that Marjorie Taylor GREENE said any Republican that voted for the infrastructure bill should be run out of the party. And while she is, you know, at the first this extreme and shouldn’t be taken seriously for the majority of the things that she says she has an oversized in. Influence on the party because of her ability to both raise money and activate the base. So at issue here is, is the notion of of any kind of bipartisan dealmaking in Nebraska. Trump didn’t win his candidate didn’t win Charles Herbst or he lost in the gubernatorial race. One interesting thing about that race and I don’t know the extent to which this mattered, but 8000 Democrats switched their party registration in the last two month to Democrat to Republican, so that switching from Democrat to Republican, allowing them to vote in the GOP primaries. So that’ll be that’ll be interesting. I mean, the guy who won in Nebraska won with 33% of the vote. So it wasn’t determinative, but I wonder if it played any role.
S2: Yeah, it was really interesting. Charles Herbst. Or is it just an appalling person who was who was running in that Nebraska primary and was we had Trump’s endorsement. He seemed to have Trump’s endorsement because he is like Trump. But he was accused credibly, very credibly accused by women, Republican women, including a Republican woman, state legislator, of having been groped by him and eight of them. Yeah. And so it’s it it is amazing that even even with that level of accusation from people within the party, within the Republican establishment, that he could still get very close to to winning the nomination is pretty shocking. One of the things that I noticed, John, with Herbst are losing to Jim Spillane, who’s the the person who will be the Republican nominee and will certainly be the governor, probably in Nebraska, barring some crazy turn of events, there doesn’t seem to be a tenable non-Trump position to hold. So it’s not that Palin who won is some kind of moderate Republican who is who’s an anti-Trump figure. He’s an extremely conservative, and he pushed himself into much more Trumpy like positions in order to ensure that he won that race. It’s not that so it’s not that Trump is necessarily winning everything. It’s just that there’s not any other house that people can live in within the Republican Party right now.
S3: Well, there is a house they can live in. It’s just small and nobody comes to visit. I mean, you know, it’s not the winning. It’s not the winning. It’s not the winning candidacy. And so that’s the bill, the real problem. And also, I mean, so, for example, Matt Dolan, who ran in the Republican primary in Ohio, tried to occupy that space. And there was some discussion that there was, you know, that he was on the rise in the end. And because of his, you know, anti-Trump position and because all the other candidates were seeking to. To kiss the ring and that, you know, it didn’t happen. But one of the things that is interesting and to the extent that we read these races for any kind of sense of where the Republican Party is and how much Trump matters and so forth, you have all these interesting overlays. So obviously West Virginia is a deep, deep, deep red state. Right. So you would expect Trump if he’s going to have power to have it in a state like West Virginia. On the other hand, David McKinney, who voted for the infrastructure bill and voted importantly for the January six commission. This is a fight between two Republicans, two incumbent Republicans. The redone, redrawn district the two were running in included more of McKinney’s old district than Mooney’s. So you would assume you would think that that would favor McKinney. So you have to kind of like pull apart all these contributing factors to decide to figure out whether and how much Donald Trump has a lot of power. We’ll see. In Pennsylvania, for example, he’s endorsed Mehmet Oz for the Republican senatorial seat there. That may not work. He endorsed J.D. Vance for the Ohio seat, a redder state, and that did work. So it all you have to figure out sort of how MAGA the person is and then how MAGA the state is to determine if we can draw any conclusions about Trump’s, you know, power as an endorser.
S1: Is that the larger reason we should care about this? I mean, if you’re someone like me who has trouble keeping the names and particulars of these state by state primaries straight, like what is the broad? Why should we care? Yes, yeah, care.
S3: We should care for a couple of reasons. One, to the extent that Trump himself controls the party, potentially in swing state districts are swing areas could help Democrats by keeping Trump on the ballot. Again, these would be in districts and states where it’s very, very close, where the energizing benefit from Trump is outweighed by how much of an anathema he is to independents and how much he might fire up Democrats. So in that sense, he plays a role not just in the Republican Party and calling its tune, but also the Democratic Party. It matters a great deal because if you get Trump’s support, it means you have done one singular thing, and that is you have denied the results of the presidential election. And that matters not just in. Congress, of course. Because if they take over Congress, then that, you know, filters its way through. But it also matters in terms of all of these secretary of state races. 27 states will choose a secretary of state in the fall. 17 of those states have at least one Republican candidate who denies that the 2020 election was won by President Biden. As you know better than anyone, Emily, the power of those secretaries of state will really matter in 2024. So and the and the Trump endorsement factor has to do with a has he put the finger on the candidate? That matters a little bit, but it also matters whether the candidate is just a self actualizing Trump person. So, you know, so do they believe all the things Trump does, even though they don’t get his his nomination? And that’s the market that I’ve been talking about for months where he’s he’s created a market in the party where somebody like Kathy Barnette, who is the Republican who is rising in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, which will take place next week, is kind of a MAGA candidate, even though Trump has endorsed Dr. Oz. So so is there a market in the party that encourages all these people to run and they win by competing in that market? And then it just further entrenches the illiberal tendencies of Donald Trump in the party without Donald Trump having to even be involved.
S2: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been wondering about that question, which is when Trump dies, which surely he must someday, someday. But which of these forces that are currently tied to him persist with how many of them are independent? How much is the dynamic whereby being being a crazy conspiracist, you know, uncompromising anti partisanship in any anti bipartisanship in any form? How much of that is now baked in to the Republican Party and how much of it withers when he dies?
S3: It’s a great question. And that’s to Emily’s question of of why this matters. It matters because you we’re seeing how much of this is connected to him, by the way. We should we should perhaps have a wry smile at the fact that in West Virginia, once a state known for its addiction to infrastructure projects, that voting for an infrastructure project get you bounced from your seat. Yeah.
S2: I mean, I also find that the something really sad about Nebraska, which is Nebraska has a history of a if you think about a state which is it’s a historically fairly Republican state, but it’s Republican in a very. Moderate way gentle. It’s a gentle Republicans and rather extremely conservative Democrats and and rather conservative but quite courtly Republicans. And to see that gentle and reasonable place become as poisonous as everywhere else just is depressing. It’s just very depressing to me to see. And I know when you talk about civility, everyone gets so angry. But to see the country become so in civil and angry and irate and furious and in color and filled with cortisol is it’s depressing.
S3: I couldn’t agree more. But when one glimmer of hope to counter that point of view is in the secretary of state race in Nebraska, the Republican secretary of state who pushed back against the lies of President Trump and his followers beat too far right challenger. So at least in that case, and in an important and an important office, the trend you described did not prevail.
S1: Did you not say at the opening of the segment, John, that Marjorie Taylor GREENE was a big fundraiser for Republicans and like a force in the party? I just want to go back to that, because I realize I have been imagining her as a kind of fringe figure. And actually that seems totally wrong.
S2: There are no fringe figures anymore, Emily. The fringe is the the energy.
S1: Well, can we just unpack that a little bit more? Because I have been thinking like, oh, all this attention she gets, that’s just like bright, shiny object. But no.
S3: Well, bright shiny object raises bright shiny money, gets people to bright shiny show up at the voting booth. And as David said, there is no fringe anymore to bring out. Andy Card, a Republican of of of a former Republican Party. You know, the fringe has become the rug. This happens in both parties. It’s asymmetrical in the Republican Party, but it’s true in both parties that people who are charismatic and young or new are no longer. They no longer have to go through the apprenticeship process. They can get on TV and raise money on their own, and that gives them slack in their party. In the Democratic Party, the leadership of the Democratic Party has made a concerted effort to keep that group in its lane. They have more power than the Republican Party because that group is far larger and the voters groove to it much more. Across the party, there is a greater share of the Republican Party that loves what Marjorie Taylor GREENE and Tucker Carlson are offering than there is an equivalent share by pretty big.
S2: But in the Democrats end to end with this geriatric class, though, then you end.
S3: With, well, that’s a separate that’s a distinct.
S2: Problem. Nancy Pelosi and Jim Clyburn and and and Steny Hoyer did your rant a crats.
S1: John, can you preview the primaries next week for us?
S3: Yes. I mean, keep your eye on North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Republican.
S2: It’s hard to keep my eyes on both of them at once.
S3: Yeah, let’s try it again to hurt your eyes. I mean, just for some of the shiny objects. Madison Cawthorn, the embattled Republican congressman, is may or may not make it through his primary in North Carolina. You also have an open Senate seat in North Carolina. You also have a guy named Bo Hines, which Blake Hounshell wrote a did a good write up in The Times about who is I think 29 may be running for the Republican primary in Raleigh. He’s a Trump endorsed candidate. Multi-candidate field in the Republican primary, he may rise up out of that, which just you sort of attach that to our previous conversation. And then in Pennsylvania, it’s this Kathy Barnett who is not a candidate that Mitch McConnell would like, not the candidate that that that Donald Trump would like, but may very well she has a kind of she has a a modeled background which might make her a less good general election candidate. But she ran a very compelling ad, an anti abortion rights ad that caused her to rise some. And so she’s a really fascinating candidate to watch. And then, of course, Pennsylvania, a crucial state because of the governor’s race. Governors in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, all will matter with respect to a abortion and abortion rights as that goes back to the states. But also, B, the question of election certification in 2024 in those key battleground states where the governors races are up for grabs.
S2: We’re joined by Ruth Graham national correspondent at The New York Times, who covers faith, religion and values. And she’s here to talk to us about the astonishing and to me, rather terrifying politicization of white evangelicals in in extraordinary numbers and very rapidly places that had been mildly political. People in churches that had been mildly political have become radically political and way to the right. This is something that began before Trump was president. But the age of Trump clearly threw napalm and kerosene and gasoline and rubbing alcohol all on this fire. So, Ruth, let’s start with the story you wrote this month about Kevin Thompson, who’s an Arkansas pastor. Who is he? What happened to him? And how does it parallel what’s been happening at evangelical churches around the country?
S4: Yeah. Kevin Thompson is a pastor in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which is the second or third biggest city in Arkansas. So not a not a small town guy. I talked with him for the first time last summer, actually looking into a story about evangelicals and Cunanan. He told me the story that I could not forget about mentioning Tom Hanks offhand in a sermon and having multiple members of his congregation kind of follow up with him afterwards, really concerned that he somehow didn’t care about sex trafficking because they were connecting it with, you know, there’s a piece of the Q and on conspiracy that says that Tom Hanks as the head of a group of Hollywood pedophiles. So this is a church I mean, it’s called Community Bible Church, founded in the nineties, early 2000. And just a couple of years ago, I would have described it as like a completely bog standard mainstream white evangelical church. This church is made up of political conservatives, but that was not the animating premise of the church. You wouldn’t hear that if you went there on Sunday mornings. It’s not what people would tell you they were there to hear. You know, you’re hearing kind of popular style, modern music. There’s multimedia stuff going on. It’s an attractive, you know, fun place to spend your Sunday morning verse for, you know, a lot of people. It’s a kind of church, I guess you could think of it as like you’re getting a TED talk about the Bible, and then you’re getting kind of a version of a Coldplay concert and you have your community there and you go home and and again, if you show up there from from the outside, it’s approachable. Hopefully it’s fun, it’s appealing, it’s not confusing. And it really is not political. It’s meant to be like just very open to a lot of people, although, again, you know, they usually are conservative spaces, but that’s not the primary draw. So over the last five, six years, Kevin, the pastor who I was focused on in the story, he he blogged against Trump and in pretty, you know, relatively mild evangelical language. But he was in Arkansas and remembered how his church and how he had been taught about Bill Clinton in the nineties. And he saw some inconsistencies there. So he spoke against Trump summer of 2020. He’s starting conversations about racial justice that the people in his church are not comfortable with. And it’s just this kind of, you know, bit by bit over the last few years, there are these division points. And by last fall, he ends up leaving the church. And it’s not super acrimonious. One of the reasons I was interested in this story is I think it’s much, much more typical than some of the big explosive divisions that that kind of make headlines. But this kind of thing is happening all over where there’s just this divide between pulpit and pew and pastors who are a lot of times a little bit more educated than people in the pews. They have a different perspective on Trump. They just, it turns out, view the world right now and just a little bit of a different way. And, you know, it parallels. You can see kind of similar things happening in the Republican Party and lots of other institutions. But I thought it was a really telling little microcosm of what’s going on with evangelicals.
S1: So when you think about this writ large for the evangelical church, do you imagine a future in which churches become more entrenched in a kind of Trump version of the world because the Kevin Thompsons are going to move away? Like, how does this affect the future of the church? Because it seems like the energy of religious institutions often comes from the people who feel the most righteous about about their worship and their devotion. And so it just made me wonder if you are going to see a kind of move in that direction as other people become disaffected.
S4: I think that’s exactly what’s happening, and I don’t claim to know exactly how this all ends up, but I think that’s the kind of separation that you’re seeing now. There’s a lot of evangelicals in the pews at churches like Community Bible who are not satisfied with that kind of quasi apolitical. You know, approach to church or they’re really attuned in a new way to what they’re hearing from their pastors. And if their pastors are a touch more moderate than they are, you know, less conservative, that might have been okay five, ten years ago and now is not because they’re hearing from people like Charlie Kirk and, you know, these other voices online, like if you’re a pastor is not saying X, Y, Z, find a new church. I mean, they are hearing that in venues outside the church and hearing that online. So yeah, I think there’s this big division that is starting. But but really I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it at all between overtly political right wing churches where people are hearing on Sunday mornings about vaccines and election conspiracies, and then the churches that are kind of more missions oriented, conversion oriented, they would they would describe it as being more gospel oriented, which at this point is really kind of I would describe it as the older model at this point. And then these other kind of places are really, really booming.
S3: Ruth Help me think through the membership question here for evangelicals, because like I think was ten years ago, another John DICKERSON, who happens to be an evangelical pastor, friend of mine, wrote a book called The Great Evangelical Recession. And basically, he said the reason the evangelical church is losing younger members is it’s gotten all it’s gotten off base. It’s misses the central mission, which is to help people in their path toward Christ. And we’ve got to get back to that and stop fussing with all this other stuff.
S2: With all this other stuff. Politics.
S3: John Yeah, politics. Politics. And just off the central question of, of, you know, the central question, which is in that book that sits at the front of the room. But it seems to me there is also potentially a growth opportunity for some churches, which is to no, not get rid of that stuff, but go ankle neck deep. And for two things suggest that to me. One is that that you have these people who are now self-identifying as evangelicals, though they don’t go to church, that they are Trump supporter, MAGA supporters first and that this is a part of the identity. So they wear that hat even though they’re not evangelicals and don’t really care that much about religion, frankly. And and so and then the second thing is that then that leads to the sense that basically some of these churches become political clubs. And it’s actually a lot more fun to come and talk about how you hate the libs than to talk about why you have to love the stranger and why you have to, you know, sublimate your pride and why humility is important and the hell tithing. So can you help me understand those two things? And how is the evangelical evangelical church doing in terms of larger number membership?
S4: Yeah, I think that that’s a really important question. And I heard a lot of warnings, you know, warnings from the kind of older model pastors, the Kevin Thompson types, the Russell Moore types who are who are warning like, listen, we’re going to lose people. This is this is alienating. It’s not we’re not getting across our core message that, you know, when you when you do look at the numbers over the course of the Trump presidency, more white people started identifying as evangelicals than left. You know, there were all these warnings about people leaving. But actually, Trump grew the number of self-identified white evangelicals in the country. Now, what does that have to do with church attendance and the bebington quadrilateral and all these different measurements of what it actually means to, you know, be a Bible believing evangelical Christian is? That’s a different thing. And that’s something that, you know well, people are still wrestling with, for sure. But I think it’s clear that there is a lot of short term gain in going political on the right. You know, you can see Kevin, you know, people like Kevin Thompson trying to gradually have little conversations about things like Black Lives Matter. And that is that’s not a winner. But but yeah, going right. At least there are people like Greg Locke, you know, these big kind of celebrity pastors who actually draw a ton of people in person and then hundreds of thousands more online. And there are clearly short term gains there. I think the critics would still say, well, let’s look at 50 years. Let’s look at 100 years. Let’s look, look at souls. You know, what is this actually doing to the soul of America? And that’s, you know, a harder thing to measure and a harder thing to know. But short term, yeah, it’s clear that there are gains to be made and and going right and preaching about vaccines and all this stuff.
S2: There is this aphorism that politics is downstream from culture. And I sort of think that that is no longer true. I think everything is now downstream from politics, that things start at politics and religion is at least evangelical white evangelical religion is is a is manifesting that right now. One of the things you talked about the beginning, Ruth, was was describing community Bible in the sense of what it was like to go there. And in my experience, you can only maintain. A sense of anger and being angry and scared and furious for a certain amount of time. It’s like more fun not to be that way. It’s nicer to be relaxed and joyful and. And calm. But. But maybe. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m wrong.
S4: Yeah. I mean.
S2: I guess I just my question is like, how long can this be maintained? This this this being at 11?
S4: Right. Well, I mean, it’s you have to keep finding things to be angry about. Right. But in those spaces, you it feels like you’re really part of an urgent project. Right? And so you’re on this political mission that has also a spiritual mission. And whichever comes first, they’re infused into each other. And it’s very exciting. It feels like you’re you’re in this project and in this community with incredibly high stakes. I mean, I’ve done other reporting on the way that Christian worship and worship music and sort of prayer rituals and all that is getting infused into Trump rallies, lower level kind of political candidate rallies. And so whichever comes first, the politics or the religious culture, you know, they amp each other up and they just raise the stakes of what the politics give. It gives it this immediacy and this urgency, and then the religion gives it this incredibly high stakes. And so they they feed on each other.
S3: I mean, self-righteousness is one of the things that that book at the front of the room is is warning against, because it’s so incredibly attractive and particularly in the in the religious realm. So it seems totally possible that if you build it the right way, you can create in an orgy of self-righteousness that’s totally antithetical to the text and the teachings of the person who’s supposed to be at the center of the faith. But it’s not an it’s a known issue. It’s a known bug in the system.
S2: Ruth, one last thing before we let you go. So in my experience as a as a Jew, as a Jewish journalist who occasionally spent a bunch of time with white evangelicals, extraordinary amounts of courtesy, always so welcoming and just had a really great time, like never felt unwelcome. I always felt I always felt, you know, joy and the presence and and hospitality. You’re a New York Times reporter. Who is going into these now politicized spaces? Has the has the temperature changed?
S4: Yes and no. So there is certainly you know, I hear a lot of opinions about The New York Times, and it’s very clear to me that there’s a lot of resistance and hesitance there and outright, you know, aggression not necessary, not usually in the kind of Sunday morning church spaces, but I’ve certainly experienced that. But I also, you know, when you talk to people and you talk to them as an individual, what I get a lot of is like, well, I trust you, but your editors will, you know, never let you get away with, you know, saying what’s really happening here, saying what the truth is. And so, yeah, I mean, the temperature has changed a lot in the last even five years of being a religion journalist. But also, I don’t know people still people are still nice and want to talk and I can still get them talking.
S2: Ruth Graham is a reporter with The New York Times who covers religion, faith and values. Thanks for coming.
S4: In. Thank you.
S2: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. I’m not sure what you’re having. I just had a lot of Sicilian white wine. So maybe when you’re having a Sicilian white wine and delicious Sicilian white wine, what are you going to be chattering about? Emily, don’t say your dog.
S1: I promise I wasn’t going to say my dog. I want to talk about two books. The first is called Forbidden City. It’s by Vanessa Hua. It’s, I think, an imagined rendition of a young girl who ends up in a relationship with Chairman Mao and everything that unfolds from that. I started it. I’m a big Vanessa Hua fan. She wrote a book called A River of Stars, which I bet I talked about on the Gabfest because I loved it. And I’m going to talk to Vanessa about this book for our Gabfest Read segment in some coming months. So readers, if you want to read along first, I don’t think it’s out quite yet, but it will be out soon. Forbidden City Vanessa Hua seems great so far. Also true of a book called Nasty, Brutish and Short by Scott Herskovitz. It’s a funny book about big philosophical questions, but all from the point of view of your kid. And I picked it up feeling a little skeptical that I really wanted to read this book, but actually, like, it’s very winning. And I think parents in particular or grandparents might really like it. So nasty, brutish and short by Scott Hirsch Obits.
S2: That is one of my favorite phrases from philosophy. The Life of Man. The state of nature is solitary, nasty, brutish and short. John, what is your chatter?
S3: Okay, so my chatter is a shout out to Andrea Elliott, who we had on the Gabfest when her book Invisible Child came out because she won the Pulitzer Prize, who, which is an amazing and well-deserved, much deserved reward for the incredible work she did on Invisible Child. I have two other things to suggest. One is a piece by John Ward in Christianity Today about how becoming a reporter actually strengthened his faith. It’s a great piece about faith and about what it means to be a journalist and the process of discernment. And so whether you happen to be a person of faith or not, it’s worth reading. The final point is the Bob Dylan Center opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which I did a piece on Sunday morning about last week, which includes, for those of you who haven’t watched it, a little personal flashback. That might be amusing to Gabfest listeners. But one thing that struck me about the visit and I don’t I seek comment from you, Emily and David, which is that I couldn’t think of another place you could go because I’d listen to Bob Dylan and carried him around in my car, in my head. And for 35 years, another location you could go to that would conjure so many different memories of of your life, because music kind of causes time travel. You remember where you were when you heard a song or whatever. And it was in addition to what it says about the artist and creativity and all those things that are in the Sunday morning piece. I was I was wrestling with the idea of where else in life you can visit and go. That is such a prompt for so many different parts of your life. You can go to your house you grow up in that reminds you of when you lived there or your elementary school and that remind you of a specific period. But this had a much longer timeline of of these kind of little bits of time travel back to different periods of my life. Anyway, it was a it’s a it’s well worth going to if you’re in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, have have have charms that are worth discovering, including some of the best Roman and I’ve ever had in Oklahoma City.
S2: All right. My chatter, just two quickies. One, Mother Jones magazine, always excellent. Mother Jones magazine has a long and involved and. Rich package about private equity and how private equity has swallowed America. And I’ve just started it, so I haven’t read all 14 articles yet, but it’s it seems great and fascinating and it has some incredible numbers that private equity employs one in 14 Americans works for a company that’s owned by a private equity company. It is something like 7% of the American economy is now private equity, and there are reasons to be really concerned about that. The other thing I want to chatter about is something that I saw on my flight back from Germany this week on a Lufthansa plane. I don’t know whether this is something only Lufthansa does or or this is now widespread in airlines. But I strongly urge you to seek it out if if it’s on your plane, which is they have cameras in the belly of the plane and in the nose of the plane and then on the tail of the plane. And you can watch the flight from these cameras. So you can see the pilot’s eye view. You can see a view from the top of the tail, which allows you to see the whole plane and you can see a view that goes looks directly down. And if you’re like me, somebody who is absolutely fascinated by by being above things and the view from above it is it was heaven. Unfortunately, my flight was like in cloud the whole time, so there was not that much to see.
S1: But you still watch.
S2: But I still watched it. I watched it every second. There wasn’t cloud. I was watching and watching the approach. And you can you watching us just taxiing along the runway, just seen how exactly our pilot is sticking to that yellow line in the middle of the runway was amazing. It was. I loved it. Listeners, you sent us excellent chatters. You send them to us at Gabfest to Slate.com, and you tweet them to us at Outside Gabfest. And this week, you collectively returned to a chapter that you gave us a few weeks ago with a follow up. And it’s fascinating. It comes from Nick Gaffney.
S5: Hello, political Gabfest. Once again, it’s Nick Gaffney from Lebanon, New Hampshire. I wanted to give you an update and my recent cocktail chatter about the slashed school budget in Croydon, New Hampshire. In my previous chatter, I mentioned that only 34 residents were at the original meeting where the town school budget was cut in half by a motion from a group of libertarian free staters. There was a chance that the town could roll back the cuts, but only if at least half the town’s registered voters were present at a new town meeting. I’m happy to report that on Saturday May 7th, more than half of the town’s 565 registered voters showed up. And in a vote of 377 to 2, re-instated the town’s original school budget. It appears to be a happy ending for most of the Croydon residents, but also a reminder to not take things for granted when it comes to local civic engagement.
S2: I’m so glad Nick followed up on that because he gave us the original chatter and it was I remember gasping with surprise and indignation at what had happened and and how far fetched it seemed that they were actually going to be able to overturn it. But seems like the people of Croydon came together to restore the budget that they wanted to have. That’s our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Shan Iran or researcher is Bridgette Dunlap. Our theme music is by. They Might Be Giants. Ben Richmond is senior director for podcast operations at Slate and Lisa montgomery is the executive producer of Slate Podcasts. Please follow us on Twitter at Gabfest and tweet chatter to us there for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson at David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week. And look, there is Emily’s puppy. There’s Emily’s puppy not being seen by Gabfest listeners. Hello, Slate Plus. How are you? I can tell you how Emily is. She’s great because she has a dog on her lap. So Slate Plus Topic is what are the ludicrous things that you now do as a middle aged person that you would have horrified your younger self or embarrassed your younger self? So I think we all can conjure back vaguely back to what it was like to be young, to be in your twenties and to look into, you know, to be looking at the old people around you and thinking what a. These people are stupid. They’re so they’re so lame. Look at how pathetically they live their lives. Look at the pathetic life choices they’ve made and how ludicrous they are. And I’m sure that the 25 year olds in our lives are looking at us that way today. But what when you think about yourself, what is it that you do now that would have horrified the you that you know you once were? I have I have a few myself. But anyone else want to start?
S1: I feel like you should kick us off.
S2: Okay. I become one of those people who I give IV fluids to my cat like I spend. I am so invested in my cat that I give her IVs. And I think that’s ridiculous. I remember I remember making fun of people. Who do.
S3: You like? Like with a with a needle.
S2: With a needle?
S3: Yeah. Oh, my God. Yeah. If you.
S2: Ever need a.
S1: She needs them.
S2: She needs them because she has kidney disease.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. Just for a laugh.
S2: She’s the IV. It’s I.V. drug abuse. No, she needs. She needs it if she wants to. If she’s going to live longer and she’s an old cat, why? I don’t know. I mean, it’s it’s sort of absurd. On the other hand, it takes me 15 minutes every, you know, every week or so. And she doesn’t mind it that much. And she seems much happier in the last six months that she’s been getting them. But it is ridiculous. Like, she’s a she’s a pet. She’s a she’s she’s just like a tiny old cat who’s lived a.
S1: Deal to do this. She would die.
S2: The alternative is she’d go, she did die, which she will do. She’s going to do that. I’m convinced that she will also die. But why am I spending?
S3: There’s increasing evidence. That’s true for us, too, which is disturbing.
S2: Yeah. Another thing that I do that I would have horrified my younger self. I watch TV during dinner sometimes. Like, if I.
S1: Sit, I would horrify my mother.
S2: Yeah. I mean, imagine how.
S3: Can’t do that enough.
S2: You don’t. You don’t do it.
S3: I wish I did.
S1: There are other people there. When you’re by yourself.
S2: I do it definitely by myself. And then I do it with my son. Yeah. Emily. Emily’s face shot.
S3: Up. What do you want? I mean, you’re watching the news, right? Come on.
S2: I don’t know. We’ll watch sports. Usually we’ll watch, like the NBA playoffs or. We’ve been watching Band of Brothers. We were watching Band of Brothers during dinner this week.
S1: Okay. Well, you’re watching a fun show together. That’s much better than the news. Actually, I thought you were going to say sports.
S2: I do watch sports. Yes, I watch sports. I watch the NBA playoffs, too. I’ll do two others. I got a tattoo, I think. 25 year old David Plotz. And I’m like, you got a tattoo when you’re 48? Are you joking? So that’s that’s slightly ridiculous.
S1: I love your.
S2: Tattoo. I love my tattoo. I do. I’m dating someone who’s much younger than me, who’s ten years younger than me. That 25 year old David Plotz would have also been horrified by the idea of dating someone ten years younger than him.
S1: Well, but I don’t think he would have been horrified by the age you are now. Yeah, probably ten years.
S2: Maybe. Maybe not.
S3: It might not have applauded.
S2: Maybe not. I don’t know. Not sure. Not sure. Not sure what he would have thought. What about you guys?
S1: Okay. So I was thinking about all the women’s doubles that I play of late. Doubles is a sport that is really more about geometry than anything else, and I absolutely disdained it when I was younger. Thus Im not very good at it because it’s better to kind of play it more instinctually than I do. Yes. John, did.
S3: You. But did you disdain it because it’s. Actually only barely a sport? Or did you disdain it for some other reason because you don’t like singles.
S1: Wasn’t a real exercise. I just changed it because I had unpleasant experiences playing girls tennis growing up. That led me to think that I didn’t like people who played, especially ladies doubles. And yet now I am old. I don’t mind so much the geometry part of it. It’s kind of interesting the strategy and I found this group of women to play with and I really like them and so it’s fun. I look forward to seeing them. That whole idea that you would look forward to seeing the people you play tennis with, especially other women, let me just be self-hating for a moment. That would have been extremely foreign and kind of horrifying to my smart girl self.
S3: That’s wise. Yeah. I the one that well first of all a career in broadcast television would have been a real surprise to me.
S2: So that’s a good one.
S3: So like my, my life post 2015 would be a real shocker. So that’s, that’s one long and complex answer that’s rather, rather bigger than this topic. But nevertheless, there you go. The second would be disdain for loud noises, like, why the hell do people have to be so loud? And and I and I would have as a youth, I would have been like, dude, like, just go away or stop laughing. My buzz. Like, what do you why are you whining about loud noises? But, oh my God, people are so loud and with their their watching of their phones without a headphone.
S2: Oh, my God.
S3: Damn conversations. Oh, like, oh, yes, whatever dropped this is and this is this sort of segways into another problem which is that like being so I think maybe this was always true though is this I wouldn’t have I wouldn’t this isn’t even something I would have disdained as a youth. But I mean, the the feeling that people’s sense of public decency has just disappeared, not maybe not disappeared, but people like these people who are on the phone in public places talking loudly enough to be heard across the street, like, who are these people and why? Or Why have they no shame? So I think that’s connected somehow.
S2: That’s good.
S1: I have another one, which is cushy vacations. When I was in my twenties, I wanted to go backpacking whenever I had time off or on, you know, many day bike trips. And I thought that it was super lame and not just bougie, but just like pathetic to just want to go like lay about in some nice hotel. And I actually blame my children for the lack of backpacking in my life because they are not really into it. And that has pushed us away. And now that they don’t live in my house anymore, I’m hoping that I will have the gumption to return to backpacking and camping, except that when you get older, sleeping on the ground gets a little harder. So I’m worried that maybe it’s going to be tough for me to actually get myself.
S2: My prediction is that there is no chance you’re going to consistently get back to back. I get none.
S1: You’re wrong.
S2: But zero zero you might go on one of those like sort of super cushy back roads, trips where you bike. You know, you’ll you’ll do a vigorous place. Someone carries the stuff and then you sleep in an extremely deluxe boutique hotel. I think you might do that.
S1: Maybe that’s.
S2: There’s no way you’re going to be like.
S1: Well, now.
S2: You’re going to go six days.
S1: And you wrong. There is something really great about going off the grid like really there is and that’s a good way to do it.
S3: But you’ll miss your doubles tennis matches.
S1: We’ll see.
S2: I’m totally with you there. On vacations, Emily? Yes. You used to want discomfort. Now I want comfort. Agreed by Slate Plus.