Ruptured beyond repair
Campaign 2016 | Donald Trump’s destruction of the American conservative movement
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016, at 12:05 pm
America’s conservative movement is going down in flames, thanks to the Republican Party and its nomination of Donald Trump for president of the United States. As I watched the heated and offbeat exchange between former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Fox News host Megyn Kelly Tuesday night, it demonstrated to me that the American conservative movement is ruptured beyond repair and Donald Trump is the cause.
At the end of what seemed to be a normal Fox News interview about election predictions, Gingrich accused Kelly of being “fascinated with sex” for over-reporting the sexual misconduct accusations against Trump instead of reporting more about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s recently revealed interest in open immigration borders and Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct past. The interview ended with each personally attacking the other with the mutual suggestion that each seek professional help for “anger issues.”
But Trump-related fractures go beyond television pundits. Solidarity among politically conservative evangelicals has been destroyed because of Trump.
On the one hand, even after grave concerns about Trump’s moral character abounded, evangelicals like author and radio host Eric Metaxas, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith & Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed, former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, and Focus on the Family and Family Talk founder James Dobson remained committed to Trump.
On the other hand, evangelical leaders like Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention president Russell Moore, megachurch pastor James MacDonald, and prominent Christian authors and speakers like Jen Hatmaker and Beth Moore (although she never mentioned the GOP candidate by name, it was fairly obvious who she was talking about) have made very public statements encouraging evangelical Christians to relinquish their support of Trump.
Perhaps the most bizarre of prominent evangelical voices is well-respected Reformed theologian Wayne Grudem, who initially wrote about Trump as the only viable “moral choice” for evangelicals and then rescinded his endorsement and called for Trump to withdraw—after the videotape of Trump’s lewd comments was released—only to later re-endorse Trump after the third presidential debate with some sort of gnostic distinction between supporting Trump the man and supporting Trump the policymaker. My initial response was, “Say what?” In the end, Grudem suggested that the character of a president is less important than a president’s policies. Since when are Christians not called to care about the character of the leaders they support?
Evangelical and conservative leaders who were once allies in the culture war to promote moral, social, and political righteousness in America are now adversaries and enemies. And the divisions are deep. The Republican Party is split, with many leaders distancing themselves from their party’s nominee. Long-standing relationships and alliances among evangelicals and conservatives are severed, with partnerships likely ended and friendships destroyed because the pragmatism of being anti–Hillary Clinton mattered more than the time-tested principles that modern conservatives—Christian and non-Christian alike—believed held their movement together since the rally cries of William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk in the 1950s and Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Coop, and Harold O.J. Brown in the 1970s.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the destruction of American conservatism is that many of its leaders gave up everything for a man who fits every description of clinical narcissism and has lived a life characterized by moral relativism. Even if Trump wins, the aftershocks of his campaign will leave conservative evangelicals rummaging for a new strategy for shaping society, because the old strategy of using national politics has failed, leaving a trail of destruction in its post-Trump aftermath.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.