Franklin Graham has had no problem crossing the line from religion to politics.
As one of President Trump’s most fervent supporters, Graham regularly wades into politics, all under the guise of being a man of God. In the process, he gets to exercise his homophobia a lot, from praising Putin to trashing gay Christians.
Now Graham has taken on the role of campaign organizer, and he’s targeting evangelicals in California to make sure that they vote in this year’s midterm elections.
At first glance, this seems like a fool’s errand. California is among the bluest of blue states in the union. Hillary Clinton carried the state by 30 percentage points, getting 4.2 million votes more than Trump. There isn’t a single Republican in statewide office and hasn’t been since 2006.
However, California is not all San Francisco and Los Angeles. Outside of the major metropolitan areas, there is a sizeable number of conservative Christians. Graham is betting that by mobilizing these voters – who tend to show up at the polls – he can make the state an example of the power of the religious right.
On a campaign-style tour through the state, Graham has been mixing preaching with politics, with a lot more emphasis on the politics. He’s calling on churches to explicitly endorse candidates from the pulpit. “Lose your tax exempt status; the progressives want to take it away anyway,” The New York Times quotes him as telling pastors. Besides, says Graham, progressive is “just another word for godless.”
There’s an audience for Graham’s call to action. One in five Californians identify as evangelical, but the turnout of evangelicals in 2016 was only half the rate of the nation as a whole.
Graham sees himself as Paul Revere. Really. “The church just has to be wakened,” he says. “People say, what goes in California is the way the rest of the nation is going to go. So, if we want to see changes, it is going to have to be done here.”
Of course, victory in California would leave the GOP indebted to Graham, especially if it means the Republicans get to keep the House of Representatives. That would be a mighty big chit that Graham could call in at a future date.
And what might he call it in for? Well, Graham is not a modest man. He could very well decide that only the presidency is big enough for him.
In normal political times, that would be a long shot. But the Trump era is hardly normal. Showing the power of his followers at the ballot box in 2018 would send a strong signal to the party that he could rally even greater numbers if he was on the ballot himself.
There are a couple of issues he’d have to overcome. For one thing, Mike Pence, the evangelicals’ idea of a prom date, is better positioned and already is beloved by the same voting bloc. For another, Graham has a long history of comments that could easily be used against him in a campaign.
But a campaign would allow Graham to spread his gospel of hate even further. Moreover, even a failed campaign would leave Graham in a good spot for a political appointment.
Ultimately, Graham may decide that he prefers to keep his profitable lifestyle away from the prying eyes of the national press. But no matter what he decides, he’s proving yet again that the GOP is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the religious right. For that, Graham expects that the Republican party will owe him a debt of gratitude