It’s been obvious since 2016 that support for Donald Trump among the conservative religious activists we traditionally have called the Christian right was based on a trust-but-verify transactional relationship. Yes, Christian-right types enjoy the lib-owning savagery Trump exhibits toward their mutual enemies, whom they tend to regard not simply as Fake Media immigrant-coddling witch-hunters but as conscious agents of the Lord Satan. But the elaborate and rather ridiculous theories conservative Christian leaders have aired for how this heathenish figure has come to be their political savior — e.g., he’s a recently converted “baby Christian” still learning the spiritual ropes, or he’s a pagan being used by God like Cyrus the Great — show the underlying doubts.
But to the extent that there is a broker between Trump and his religious fans, it’s probably Vice-President Mike Pence, an old-school Christian-right pol who risked his own career (before it was salvaged by Trump) in waging war against the sodomites of Indiana on behalf of an alleged “religious liberty” right to discriminate. As with his religious allies, there’s an element of quid pro quo in his relationship to POTUS: He offers sycophantic praise and total support for Trump, particularly when the administration does stuff that might be troubling to traditional conservatives. And as Politico reports, his reward is disproportionate influence on certain items, particularly anything that might promote his career-long vendetta against reproductive rights generally and Planned Parenthood specifically:
[B]ehind the scenes, Pence has developed his own sphere of influence in an agency lower on Trump’s radar: Health and Human Services. It’s also the agency with the ability to fulfill the policy goal most closely associated with Pence over his nearly 20 year career in electoral politics: de-funding Planned Parenthood.
Numerous top leaders of the department — including Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Medicaid/Medicare chief Seema Verma — have ties to Pence and Indiana. Other senior officials include Pence’s former legislative director from his days as governor and former domestic policy adviser at the White House …
Had courts not stepped in, HHS was set to implement this month newly rewritten federal policies to curb abortion and cut funds to Planned Parenthood, tightening rules of the Title X federal family planning grants so clinics can’t even refer women to a separate abortion provider. In addition, the agency this month boosted religious conscience protections for providers who refuse on moral grounds to perform certain medical services, including abortion.
Pence isn’t just another conservative Republican who delights in railing at the baby-killers of Planned Parenthood; it’s been a cause near to his heart for a long time:
The changes to Title X are the culmination of a battle Pence waged first as a member of Congress, then as governor and now in the White House. The Title X rules, which force providers of federally funded family-planning programs to separate themselves from abortion providers, are aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which relies heavily on such funding. The Title X changes don’t cut off Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood — although cutting off that big pot of money is on the GOP wish list as well.
In 2007, as a U.S. congressman, Pence introduced the first bill to strip federal funding from the organization, creating an issue that eventually became almost a litmus test for GOP candidates.
As Politico notes, Pence is hardly the only key figure in the Trump administration with such views. But again, there’s an element of personal reassurance involved in the man a heartbeat away from the presidency — and Trump’s presumed successor — sharing the Christian right’s agenda so fervently. Just the other day the president casually said something that probably made loyal supporters like Jerry Falwell Jr. freak out:
In an interview with Fox News, the President was asked to put aside policy disagreements and weigh in on Buttigieg’s status as a married gay man.
“Don’t you think it’s just great to see the fact that you’ve got a guy there on the stage with his husband and it’s normal?” Fox’s Steve Hilton asked.
“I think it’s absolutely fine, I do,” Trump said.
He agreed with Hilton’s assessment that Buttigieg’s candidacy is a “sign of great progress,” adding, “Yeah, I think it’s great. I think that’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with, I have no problem with it whatsoever.”
Even a “baby Christian” would know that according to the version of Christianity taught by Trump’s allies, Buttigieg is in open rebellion against the clear and unwavering ordinances of God Almighty, and his “marriage” is a sacrilegious fraud. That Trump has “no problem with it whatsoever” may be troubling to conservative Christian activists, until they remember: Mike Pence is there to keep things on the straight and narrow path.
There’s occasionally talk of Trump dumping his faithful veep from his ticket in 2020. I wouldn’t give it a shred of credence. If Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh aren’t enough to make Christian-right leaders sleep soundly at night, knowing Mike Pence is nearby the president is the ultimate assurance.