But whatever support Romney had among these evangelicals quickly faded after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump understood evangelical voters better than Romney. He learned rather quickly that he needed their support in large numbers to defeat Hillary Clinton. Someone handed him the Christian Right political playbook—an approach to politics focused on abortion, religious liberty (as evangelicals define it), and Israel—and he executed it to perfection. Romney did everything he could to stop the reality television star from becoming president, including the delivery of a speech at the University of Utah in March 2016 in which he called Trump a “fraud” and said he was “playing the American public for suckers.” When white evangelicals helped carry Trump to an electoral college victory, the name “Mitt Romney” was already anathema to these voters. Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office during the 2020 impeachment trial was the icing on the cake.
The case of Romney’s relationship with American evangelicals speaks volumes about the current state of Christian Right politics. The leaders of this movement are quick to tweet Bible verses for their followers and teasers about their relationship with Jesus or their latest sermon series, but when it comes to politics, they are ruthless and cutthroat. They claim to pray for their enemies on Sunday, but they prey on their enemies the rest of the week (and often on Sunday morning as well). The Christian Right is no longer a religious movement, it is a political one. The only thing different about Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Christian Right leaders is the content of their political message. Their ruthless, dog-eat-dog tactics are the same as their conservative political counterparts—yet another evangelical accommodation to the larger culture. Like most political movements, the Christian Right sees the world in black and white. It demands absolute loyalty. It understands independent thinking as a kind of betrayal. And as Mitt Romney now knows, it punishes traitors.