At Values Voter Summit, Religious Right Activists Gear Up for 2020 Trump Campaign on Abortion, Judges, ‘Religious Liberty’

FRC's Tony Perkins, President Donald Trump, and pastor Andrew Brunson at the 2019 Values Voter Summit

Religious Right activists gathered in Washington, D.C., over the weekend for the Values Voter Summit, a major political gathering for conservative evangelicals and their political allies. While the vibe was a bit subdued given the Trump-enabled slaughter of U.S.-allied Kurds that was taking place on the other side of the globe, speakers and participants treated President Donald Trump as a hero and champion and urged a massive effort to help him win reelection next year.

While there was plenty of disrespect for Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, the conference wasn’t as focused on the impeachment inquiry as you might have guessed. But that makes sense when you consider that conservatives are completely confident that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate would dismiss any attempt to remove Trump from office.

Religious right leaders are keeping their eyes on the 2020 election. They’re committed to doing everything they can to get Trump four more years to use the power of the executive branch and federal courts to further enshrine the religious right’s agenda into American law and policy.

The overarching theme of the conference was that Trump was elected with God’s help and is doing God’s work, and it is Christian voters’ duty to do whatever it takes to reelect him. The presentations at VVS suggest that the major campaign themes for Trump’s allies will be:

  • Portray Democrats as barbarous promoters of “late-term abortion,” “birthday abortion,” and infanticide;
  • Portray Democrats as enemies of Christianity and religious freedom who cannot be trusted with power or the ability to choose federal judges;
  • Praise Trump as the most pro-life, pro-religious freedom, pro-Christianity president in history.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose agency has been at the forefront of religious right-aligned policy changes, called Trump “the most pro-life president” and said that under Trump HHS is more than ever “the Department of Life.” Azar bragged about the Trump administration’s expansion of the harmful “global gag rule,” which prevents U.S. government funds from going to any non-U.S. organization that provides information about or service for abortionand about a waiver the Trump administration issued to South Carolina that allows taxpayer-funded foster agencies to refuse to place children with Catholic, Jewish, LGBTQ parents–anyone who doesn’t meet their particular evangelical religion test.

Right-wing activist and former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka promoted his new book, “The War for America’s Soul: Donald Trump, the Left’s Assault on America, and How We Take Back Our Country.” Gorka emphasized, “It is a war.” He told VVS attendees that they were in a fight for the future of the republic, and that if they weren’t on social media every day defending Trump, they were part of the problem.

The conference culminated in a Saturday night gala at which Trump himself spoke. Trump reminded people that he had nominated and defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, claiming that some people in that room had advised him to cut Kavanaugh loose. In addition to the now-familiar unending self-promotion, defense of his “perfect” phone calls and gloating about his victory in “the greatest election of our time,” Trump’s speech was essentially the rest of the conference condensed into a Trumpian assault on “extreme left-wing radicals” and “far-left socialists” trying to tear down Trump and Christian values. He told attendees that the enemies of religious freedom would, if given the chance, “use every instrument of government power” to try to shut them down. He portrayed himself as their champion, and the audience agreed, chanting “four more years!”