In May, days after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, former National Organization for Marriage leader Maggie Gallagher warned her fellow conservatives, “If you join Team Trump, you have to swallow not just what Trump has done and said but the next thing he will say or do.”
Many of Gallagher’s fellow travelers in the Religious Right did not heed her warning and got behind Trump in exchange for policy promises and his vow to create the Supreme Court of their dreams. But if they haven’t found themselves grappling with any of Trump’s other outrageous behavior, they now have no way around it. How will Trump’s Religious Right allies respond to the revelation of a tape of Trump not only talking about women in a degrading way—which he has done before—or bragging about hitting on a married women, but also boasting that his fame allowed him to sexually assault women because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”
So far, many of Trump’s prominent Religious Right allies have decided to stick with him.
Family Research Council president and trump anti-abortion adviser Tony Perkins, who runs an annual event called the Values Voter Summit, told Buzzfeed, stunningly, that his “personal support for Donald Trump has never been based upon shared values.” He cited the Supreme Court as justification for his sticking with Trump.
He said in a statement that he is voting for Trump because he does not want to “allow the country and culture to deteriorate even further by continuing the policies of the last 8 years.”
Anti-choice activist Alveda King of Priests for Life decided just to praise Trump for eventually sort of apologizing for the remarks, writing, “In apologizing for and correcting mistakes, boldly doing so before the entire world, Mr. Trump says he’s making the sacrifice for his children and grandchildren.”
“Mr. Donald Trump is raising the bar of America’s conscience,” she said, adding that Americans “need to follow suit” and apologize as well…for abortion.
King’s Priests for Life colleague, Father Frank Pavone, also told a reporter that he was sticking with Trump—hardly surprising for someone who has said that the potential of a nuclear war under President Trump was less dangerous than the certainty of continued legal abortion under a President Clinton.
Gary Bauer of American Values said Trump’s comments were “disgusting,” but excused them by noting that Trump “did not run as an evangelical.” Early evangelical Trump supporter Robert Jeffress, a Dallas-based Southern Baptist pastor, took a similar tack, saying that the comments in the tape were “indefensible” but that he wasn’t looking for a “Sunday school teacher.” Faith and Freedom Coalition head Ralph Reed dismissed the whole thing, saying, “Ten-year-old tapes of private conversation with a television talk show host rank very low on their hierarchy of concerns.”
David Lane, an influential force in mobilizing evangelical support for Republican politicians, told the Washington Post that he had talked over the fallout of the tape with evangelical leaders and found that “these guys are behind him, as they were before.” “They think the comments were awful but they happened years ago and they are interested in where he is now — and more important where the country is now, ” he said. “They talked about how much is at stake, starting with the Supreme Court.”
Prominent evangelist Franklin Graham emphasized that he was not endorsing any candidate, but made clear what he thought evangelical voters should do following the release of the Trump tape: “On November 8th we will all have a choice to make. The two candidates have very different visions for the future of America. The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court. That impacts everything. There’s no question, Trump and Clinton scandals might be news for the moment, but who they appoint to the Supreme Court will remake the fabric of our society for our children and our grandchildren, for generations to come.”
Mike Huckabee wrote on his website that he was “appalled by Trump’s comments” but went on to lament the “genuine invasion of privacy” of the recording—which was made while he was filming a television show.
Ben Carson said in a statement through his spokesman Armstrong Williams that “Dr. Carson accepts” Trump’s apology and he remains “firmly in his corner.” Incidentally, Williams just last week admitted to making lewd comments following a sexual harassment suit against him.
Conservative activist Gary Cass wrote on Facebook, “I hope every one realizes this general presidential election was NEVER about one relatively good candidate VS. one absolutely bad one, both have fatal character flaws. The election is now clearly about direction, policy and personnel, knowing neither candidate is remotely pristine. It’s now ultimately Insider vs outsider; globalist vs. nationalist; radical lefty vs. pragmatic populist; Judicial activist judges vs. constitutional constructionists; Brazen abortion lover vs a publicly pro-life. Since we do not have a candidate we can unequivocally champion we have to vote for policy and appointments and pray for God’s mercy.”
Plenty of prominent conservative evangelicals have been condemning Trump after his comments, but most of these are people who have been critical of Trump’s candidacy from the beginning, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, NOM founder Robert George and conservative pundit Erick Erickson. These activists have turned most of their fury not on Trump, but on the evangelical leaders who have continued to support him.
One group that did at least somewhat change its tune after the revelation of the Trump tape was the conservative Catholic group Catholic Vote, which acknowledged in a statement that while it had not endorsed a candidate, it had advocated for Trump’s policies over Clintons. “In our opinion, the viability of Donald Trump’s candidacy is now in question,” the group wrote. “Furthermore, the good many hoped to achieve, in spite of Trump’s many well-known flaws, is also now in doubt. If Donald Trump is unwilling to step aside, the Republican National Committee must act soon out of basic decency and self-preservation.”
We were especially curious what would be the response of the prominent the anti-choice women who during the primaries signed a letter saying they were “disgusted” by Trump’s behavior toward women but have since decided to support him.
Concerned Women for America’s Penny Nance told NPR, simply, “It is essential for Donald Trump to take full responsibility for his actions, show contrition and to project a change of heart.”
The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser, who is chairing Trump’s pro-life coalition and has worked diligently to portray the anti-choice movement as a feminist cause, has, as far as we can tell, been silent.