It is now abundantly clear in the wake of Charlottesville that the court evangelicals do not have any influence with Donald Trump when it comes to racial issues. Of course such a statement implies that they have actually talked to the POTUS about these issues and told him that his statements about Charlottesville are morally bankrupt. The last year makes me skeptical that a conversation of this nature has ever happened, but if it has, Trump hasn’t listened.
But what about Trump’s policy decisions? Have the court evangelicals had any sway over the POTUS? This is a more difficult question to answer. Trump has given conservative evangelicals the Supreme Court justice they wanted in the person of Neil Gorsuch. Trump has appointed and will appoint many federal judges as well. He has the potential of changing the makeup of the federal judiciary.
It is also likely that the court evangelicals were behind Trump’s ban transgender people from the military. If he gets what he wants on immigration restriction, he will get it with the support of the court evangelicals. If he gets what he wants with the Muslim ban, his conservative evangelical advisers will cheer. If the Johnson Amendment is removed, it will be the fulfillment of a promise he made to the court evangelicals. Betsy DeVos’s understanding of American education is in line with the views of conservative evangelicals.
All of Trump’s relationships, I think, have to be seen as transactional. But the real question remains about what’s actually being transacted here. On the policy front, he hasn’t made moves to address issues that are traditionally very important to the religious right: The promises Trump has made have been more symbolic. For example, Trump recently promised that “We are going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” But beyond “Merry Christmas” rhetoric, I think his central campaign promise to conservative Christians was that he was going to restore right-wing Christians to the center of American power. It remains to be seen how exactly he’s going to accomplish that as president, but I think even just the promises of power represented something that voters really seemed to respond to.
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