Why are so many Christian conservatives refusing to criticize Donald Trump’s pay to play sex life? The news of a $130,000 settlement made to porn star Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, via alleged fixer Michael Cohen, is only the latest episode in which conservative religious leaders and the voters they influence seem unperturbed by personal behavior that they condemn in others.
This apparent contradiction is leading to outrage among other conservatives who view Trump’s lack of self-control as a growing vulnerability for the GOP. Surging evangelical support for Trump, despite persuasive evidence that his agents have paid hush money to Daniels and other women, is (in their view) evidence of moral collapse in the conservative coalition of economic, intellectual and religious factions that have dominated the party since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Evangelicals’ failure to criticize the president is “revolting,” Rod Dreher, a writer at The American Conservativewrote at the end of March. “Again and again: I get voting for Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. I don’t get this whoring after him, and telling lies about him — even if they are lies to oneself.”
This disagreement over the meaning, and even the facts, of Trump’s sexual escapades may represent the end of an era in American conservatism. It is not only prying religious and non-religious voters apart, but it is creating rifts among religious conservatives. Values activists like Bob Vander Plaatz, CEO of The Family Leader, have insisted on a full investigation of a new round of scandals triggered by the revelations unleashed by Daniels and her attorneys, urging Trump to, at the very least, publicly confess and apologize. Unrealistic as this may sound, given the President’s personality, the recognition of sin does create a path to public forgiveness in evangelical circles — as well as to Divine forgiveness, which is really the point.
To read the rest of this essay, published in Public Seminar on April 25 2018, click here.