Since the Reagan administration, the religious right has always had been a power player in the GOP. But with the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism, the religious right has seen its influence in the Republican party grow. It used to be for every Pat Buchanan, there was a John McCain–someone willing to give the culture war lip service, but not really all that interested in joining the battle.
That’s all changed. The McCains of the world are now looked upon as remnants of a Republican party that has passed. The GOP is now the party of Trumpism, with its toxic brew of racial resentment and bellicose posturing.
And Trumpism–like the president himself–depends upon the religious right as its core of support. With his transactional mentality, Trump rewards the religious right with whatever it wants in return for their unwavering faith in him. The religious right has gone from being a power in the party to owning it.
There are ample signs that the GOP is now run by the wishes of conservative Christians. Trump caters to them, and the rest of the party simply follows suit for fear of antagonizing the base. Here are just seven examples that underscore how complete the takeover is.
Trump’s cabinet. There has never been a Cabinet so closely aligned with the religious right as Trump’s. From Scott Pruitt to Jeff Sessions, the folks running the federal government are fulfilling the agenda of conservative Christians. That’s because so many of them are members of that group themselves. Ten Cabinet members belong to a White House Bible study group run by Ralph Drollinger, who has impeccable religious right credentials.
Mike Pence. Trump’s choice of Pence as vice president removed all doubt for conservative Christians wary about Trump’s history of immorality. Pence is the man behind the scenes, but he’s also calling a lot more shots than his low profile would suggest. Pence is beloved by the religious right for his long track record of supporting their causes, culminating in the (disastrous for Pence) religious liberty bill when Pence was Indiana governor. With Pence in the number two spot, religious conservatives know that their interests will always take precedence.
Judicial nominees. Trump has nominated a series of candidates for the federal judiciary that the religious right adores, starting with Neil Gorsuch. But Trump is also loading lower-level benches with far-right picks who adhere to the religious right’s principles. There’s Kyle Duncan, for example, who argued the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court. Or Michael Giampiettro, who said that the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality should be disregarded because it’s “not really legal reasoning.” There are plenty of others, all of whom will shape federal law for generations to come once they are appointed.
The resignation of Paul Ryan. It’s not just who Trump has appointed. It’s who he’s forced out. As Congressman and then House Speaker, Paul Ryan dedicated his life to redistributing wealth–upwards. But in the era of Trumpism, he soon learned he has no place, which is why he decided to retire at the end of his current term. Ryan was no friend of the LGBTQ community, but he didn’t make attacking it key to his politics.
Jay Sekulow. Sekulow is a key player (at times only player) on Trump’s legal defense team. But his legal background is in being the religious right’s go-to lawyer. As chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson, Sekulow has been waging battle for the religious right for more than a quarter century, arguing a series of cases before the Supreme Court. Trump’s preservation in office–and the GOP’s hopes as a party–hinge on Sekulow’s legal skills.
Religious liberty. Preserving the rights of homophobic bakers is a top priority for the religious right. Trump has their back. Just last week, he put the full force of the federal government behind promoting religious liberty. You know that it’s going to be a litmus test for other GOP candidates.
Organizing for the midterms. This year’s midterm elections are potentially catastrophic for the Republican party. But who is leading the charge for getting out the vote to counter the blue wave? You guessed it: the religious right. It’s planning its largest midterm mobilization effort ever. That means that candidates will be beholden to the wishes of conservative evangelical voters who identify with Trumpism. Should the candidates succeed, they will be in their pocket. Should they lose, it will be because they were insufficiently committed to the agenda. In any case, it’s the religious right that will be calling the party’s future even after the elections are over.