Rick Saccone, State Rep. With Christian Nationalist Ties, Vying For A Seat In Congress On Tuesday

Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone leads a tour of "scriptural references" in the state capitol. (Screenshot via YouTube)

This weekend, President Trump will be traveling to Pennsylvania for a campaign rally where he’s expected to also plug the candidacy of Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s special election to replace Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned after reports emerged that he had urged a woman he had an affair with to have an abortion.

In a campaign email, Trump wrote, “It’s you and me against the fake news in the fight to elect Republicans like Rick Saccone to Congress.”

Saccone, who is running against Democrat Conor Lamb in what looks to be a tight race, is a Trumpist with a Christian nationalist bent. When he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate last February (he later changed course and jumped into the House special election), Saccone had Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton introduce him and Sam Rohrer, a former Pennyslvania state representative who heads the American Pastors Network, lead an opening prayer.

Afterward, Saccone appeared on Rohrer’s radio program, where he said that he is running for Congress because God wants “people who will rule with the fear of God in them to rule over us.”

Saccone’s choice to launch his campaign with Barton and Rohrer says a lot about how he approaches government. Rohrer, who has repeatedly credited divine intervention for Trump’s 2016 victory, has said that the existence of women in positions of political leaderships is a sign that we are under God’s judgment and linked the massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub to God’s having removed “his hand of protection” from the country thanks to unbiblical policies like LGBTQ rights. In 2015, he declared that Russia was now “the moral leader of the world” thanks to its crackdown on LGBTQ rights.

Barton is a favorite “historian” on the Religious Right, despite the fact that his grasp on history—including his own history—can be tenuous. This is because Barton’s reading of American history always tends to bolster Christian nationalist viewpoints, just as his readings of the Bible seem to always confirm that God is aligned with Republican fiscal and social policy priorities. Barton is an advocate of “Seven Mountains” dominionism, the idea that conservative Christians must take control of all the “mountains” of government and culture in order to pave the way for the return of Christ.

Vox noted in January that Saccone and Barton seem to share a worldview and rhetorical style:

Saccone’s tacit endorsement of Barton — he chose Barton to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling Saccone’s wider political and religious views — should come as no surprise to those who have been following his career in politics. Saccone’s rhetoric as both a state lawmaker and on the campaign trail centers around Bartonian ideas of America as a foundationally Christian nation.

His own book, God in Our Government, seems straight out of the Barton playbook, arguing, as Barton does, that secularists have conspired to obfuscate the Christian history of the United States. Historian John Fea, a longtime critic of Christian nationalism, refers to Saccone on his blog as “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.”

In 2013, Saccone appeared on Barton’s “Wallbuilders Live” program to discuss his resolution in the state house declaring a “national fast day,” saying that “we need to be reminding people that it’s OK, that God has always been part of our government from the founding up ‘til now and it’s OK, we want Him to be part of it.”

At a 2015 “Unite to Restore America” prayer rally, Saccone spoke about the need to emphasize “God over secularism” in a country that is “sick” and in “moral decline.” After rattling off a list of recent gruesome crimes, Saccone said, “For two generations, our children have not been taught the virtue of the founding and the founders. Secularists have disparaged our past and erased any trace of our godly heritage. They deny American exceptionalism and they condemn patriotism. And I tell you this, if we don’t teach our children to honor God and love their country, the secularists will teach them not to.”

Historian John Fea points to a tweet from inauguration day in which Saccone wrote, “President Trump is preserving our country’s Godly heritage by swearing his oath on not just one Bible but two.”

Warren Throckmorton notes:

As a GOP state representative, Saccone sponsored a resolution proclaiming 2012 as The Year of the Bible in PA. He is also behind the effort to place the motto In God We Trust on display in PA public schools.

Besides Barton and Rohrer, Saccone has garnered support from the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles and has spoken to the group’s Pennsylvania chapter, as well as the Government Is Not God PAC, the National Right to Life Committee, the NRA and the conservative Catholic group CatholicVote.

Disclosure: Right Wing Watch is a project of People For the American Way, which has been involved in get out the vote efforts in this election.