As I wrote last night, evangelical leaders who support Donald Trump cling to what I am calling a “What Trump said was reprehensible, but Bill Clinton…” line of argument. I thought some of these leaders–Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others–might change their minds after a night of sleep. This does not seem to be the case. In fact, the recent Trump scandal seems to have had no effect on these evangelical leaders.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post has been doing some great reporting on this. Here is a taste of her most recent piece:
Ralph Reed, a conservative Christian activist and the head of Trump’s religious advisory board, said that as the father of two daughters, he was disappointed by the “inappropriate” comments.
“But people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” he said in an email.
He contrasted Trump with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying that her “corrupt use of her office to raise funds from foreign governments and corporations and her reckless and irresponsible handling of classified material on her home-brewed email server, endangering US national security, that will drive the evangelical vote.”
“I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns,” he said.
Some evangelicals have pointed out how Reed called for the importance of character from political leaders in the past. In 1998, when he was running the now-defunct Christian Coalition, the New York Times wrote about the organization’s meeting. The newspaper wrote that the group’s leaders used former President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal as “the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of ‘family values.’ ”
“Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message,” the Times quotes Reed as saying. “We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.”
Trump’s campaign has driven wedges between some evangelicals, who have no formal leadership or hierarchy and have been increasingly divided over who may speak for those who choose that label. A group of evangelicals released a letter on Thursday condemning Trump, saying his campaign “affirms racist elements in white culture.”
The newest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute said that 69 percent of white evangelical Protestants favored Trump while 19 percent supported Clinton. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll indicates that 52 percent of evangelicals of any race favored Trump compared to 40 percent who supported Clinton.
On Friday night, Trump released a video apologizing for his comments, calling them “foolish” and saying he pledges to “be a better man tomorrow.”
Other Christian leaders varied in their responses to Trump’s comments.
“The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended,” evangelist Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook on Saturday morning. “But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended.” Graham, who has not formally endorsed a candidate this election but endorses issues Trump has said he stands for. “The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court,” Graham said.
Darrell Scott, a black pastor from Cleveland who supports Trump, wrote on Twitter, “I don’t condone the conversation; but I don’t condemn the man!”
Popular author Rachel Held Evans, who grew up in an evangelical home, called on evangelicals to speak out against Trump’s words.
“Evangelicals, misogyny is wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Calling women ‘bitches’ & ‘pieces of ass’ is wrong. SAY SO,” she tweeted.
Read the entire piece here.