The fact that Donald Trump is the putative nominee of the political party the Christian right has sworn fealty to helps explain why upward of a thousand self-designated leaders of The Cause showed up Tuesday in New York for a close encounter with the wiggy mogul. Their curiosity about this tabloid character turned supposed nationalist crusader, and their need for reassurance, were obvious, too.
What did not happen, according to the usually reliable Tim Alberta of National Review, was any sort of collective laying-on-of-hands from the throng. Most of the leaders had already reconciled themselves to voting for Trump. But hardly anyone new endorsed him, and the crusade atmosphere to which so many of them are accustomed in their political endeavors seemed to be lacking, despite cheerleading efforts from churchy pols like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Ralph Reed.
One problem is that Trump underperformed, taking only a fraction of the questions attendees had for him and pretty much repeating past pledges to appoint anti-abortion judges and protect the “religious liberty” to discriminate against godless people, especially th0se abominable sodomites. It’s extremely obvious that while he’s willing to sign onto the Christian right’s litmus tests and repeat its dog whistles, his heart isn’t much into it.
That could change as the general election grows near. And the lack of enthusiasm might not matter much, since an unenthusiastic vote counts just the same as one cast by a voter psyched out of her or his skull. It does make you wonder, though, who exactly is going to raise the cudgels for Trump if he gets into deep trouble. Let’s say for the sake of argument that a revolt develops in Cleveland — maybe not over the identity of the Republican presidential nominee, but over the platform, or the vice-presidential nomination, or the bully-boy atmospherics (especially if violence occurs on Cleveland’s streets). Are these Christian soldiers going to have Trump’s back? Probably not. And if they don’t, who will?
The point is that, for all the talk of the passions Trump has aroused, it’s not that easy to identify a “core” of his base of support who will be there when he needs them in Cleveland or at other hot spots in the campaign. Overt racists will be loyal but aren’t that numerous. Jingoists may like him, but they have plenty of other leadership options. And the Christian right is at best meh. Indeed, one of the original Christian-right leaders, longtime home-schooling advocate Michael Farris, argues the conservative Evangelical surrender to Trump represents the very end of the Christian right. Many of his former comrades in the theocratic cause don’t agree. But there’s not much appetite for fighting about it. And a Donald Trump who doesn’t inspire fights is in trouble.