Stephen Mansfield is a conservative Christian who did not support Trump, and he wrote a new book, Choosing Donald Trump, that tries to understand why eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Mansfield gave an interview to Sean Illing where Mansfiled says that conservative Christians took a great risk by identifying themselves so strongly with Trumpism and that if Trump continues to prove himself to be a disastrous president, a large part of the self-described “value voter” movement will sink along with the Trump ship. Mansfield “says that Christian conservatives now “own” Trump, and will pay a huge price if he proves to be a moral and political disaster.”
…I think that many [religious conservatives] who have essentially traded the moral high ground for access have stepped down from their lofty pulpit, their lofty positions, and have therefore opened themselves up to criticism. They’re supposed to be representatives of God, of Christian morality. To the extent that they merely become power brokers, they deserve the beating they get.
I think that’s the great risk. In the book, I say that these religious conservatives now own Donald Trump. They take an ownership of him. They supported him so fully that they own him in the eyes of the American people. And they’ve taken a great risk. The millennials are distancing themselves from these crowds because they’re horrified. Non-Christian religions are horrified by Trump. The watching world is horrified. The more traditional church crowd, not so much the right-leaning church crowd, is horrified. So they have risked a great deal, and they’ve bet on a horse that’s rather unstable.
If Trump turns out to be a moral and political disaster, is the religious right in this country permanently damaged?
I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think they have bet the farm on Donald Trump. They’ve taken a tremendous risk, and if Donald Trump betrays their vision, which he’s already done in some matters, then their banner may be driven from the field of cultural debate for a generation or more. They will simply not be heard, because they are standing with him no matter what he does. They’re too far in now to back away from him and distance themselves.
Even for a skeptic like me, it was shocking to see all these people who for so many years preached the importance of moral character completely abandon everything for the sake of raw political calculation.
I absolutely agree with you. Their big knock on Obama, apart from his policies, was that they weren’t sure he was a moral man. Or they weren’t sure he was a Christian. Well, now they’re voting for Trump and saying, “Well, we’re voting for president and not for Sunday school teacher.” That wasn’t the case they were making with Barack Obama, but it is the case they’re making with Trump. They’re scrambling to appear consistent here.
I spoke to a lot of these people while writing this book, and many of them are friends of mine. What they say is that they’re willing to put up with Trump so long as he does certain powerful things like put the right people on the Supreme Court. It will only take another appointment to the Supreme Court by the Trump administration to affect the direction of the Court for years and years, and they know that.
They’ll just tell you straight up, “We’re willing to put up with the cussing and the chaos of the White House and the bombast and some of the idiocy if he just appoints the right people to the Court and does a couple of other things.”
Mansfield says Christian conservatives allied themselves with Trump for two reasons. First, Trump deceived many Christian leaders by flattering them with high praise, inviting them to rallies and meetings at his clubs, and convincing them that he would do their bidding. Those personal relationships led leaders to the second reason they supported Trump: Christian conservatives made the transactional calculation that Trump’s inherent character flaws and immorality would a justifiable means to good ends; that he would appoint conservative Christians to the courts and other positions and he would pass conservative Christian laws.
Unfortunately, as every day passes and Trump looks more and more like a disaster, conservative Christian supporters should be realizing their mistake, but they have tied themselves too tightly to Trump’s ship. This is causing them to increasingly suffer from cognitive dissonance. They mostly haven’t even been able to admit to themselves that Trump has any problems at all because of the strong, natural incentives for motivated reasoning. A Trump disaster would just seem too disastrous for his Christian supporters for them to be able to contemplate. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to solve this cognitive dissonance problem.
They knew Trump isn’t Christian, but they had hoped that Trump would be like Churchill who was profane but who seem like he was ordained and who achieved Christian ends. They have compared Trump with Cyrus the Great from the Old Testament who was a vile pagan that God put on earth to fulfill His purposes. Everyone knew that Trump has never been a real Christian, but many Christians hoped that he would appoint real Christians to positions of power like Justices at the Supreme Court. Perhaps Trump’s real purpose was to appoint a real Christian to an even higher office than the Supreme Court.
That person is our future president Mike Pence. That is the solution to the evangelical political problem. Evangelicals should realize that God’s most logical plan all along was to use Trump’s presidency to bring about the most conservative Christian president since James Garfield or maybe James Madison. Someone who wouldn’t have been elected directly, but who is incredibly popular in comparison with Trump now. What could be a more important appointment for Trump to make? Now it is time for conservative Christians to redeem their legacy and bring a Christian to the White House who will be more effective at achieving Christian policies. They are the soul of the party that controls congress and they can bring a real life-long conservative into the Presidency and a real Christian: Pence 2018.