Most religious right leaders backed conservative evangelical Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential primary. They didn’t get their man, but they got the next best thing.
After he bested Cruz in the Republican nominating contests, Donald Trump aggressively courted Cruz’s religious conservative supporters and offered them a deal — help him get elected and he’d hand them the power to advance their political agenda. With Trump’s selection of religious right favorite and LGBT rights foe Mike Pence as running mate offering a sign that he was serious, conservative evangelical leaders took the bargain.
Trump handed over major transition team responsibility to religious right activists like the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell. And now that Trump is filling his Cabinet with antigay and antichoice ideologues, religious right leaders are practically squealing with delight. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that even Ted Cruz could have come up with a collection of nominees more to this group’s liking.
Take Ben Carson, who has been named to take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson has said that efforts to end racially discriminatory housing policies are “dangerous,” like something you’d see “in communist countries.” During his presidential campaign, Carson said the LGBT rights movement was part of a bigger anti-American, anti-God, anti-Christian plot by communist subversives to advance a New World Order. Now he will have an opportunity to rescind or simply not enforce LGBT nondiscrimination rules put into place by the Obama administration.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, is a billionaire whose family has given massive financial support to building the religious right’s political infrastructure while pushing antigay and antilabor policies. DeVos is one of the nation’s most aggressive advocates for taking money away from public schools and diverting it to religious schools, homeschoolers, and for-profit education management companies as part of an effort to, in her words, “advance God’s kingdom.”
Tom Price, nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, is eager to be Trump’s point person for repealing the Affordable Care Act, which helps millions of Americans access health care. Price also opposes abortion rights and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides health care to millions of American women.
These picks not only please the antigovernment ideologues of the Tea Party and Koch brothers’ wing of the party, they mesh nicely with Christian Reconstructionist principles that have been embraced by religious right leaders who argue that the Bible says that educating people, feeding the poor, and providing health care are the church’s job, not the government’s.
Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who denies the scientific consensus on climate change, has also adopted the right’s rhetoric about religious freedom in America being “under constant attack.” In the same vein, Trump has nominated former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. Perry launched his 2012 presidential campaign with a prayer rally organized by a group of divisive dominionists, who believe the right kind of Christians are meant to control every sphere of influence in government and society. He suggested that his stand against the weight of scientific opinion on climate change made him a modern-day Galileo and proposed abolishing the Energy Department — a proposal he famously forgot in a debate. As a 2016 presidential candidate, he was still denying global warming.
Environmentalists fear disastrous consequences if climate change deniers are allowed to run federal energy and environmental policy. But Trump can count on the religious right not to object. Perry was publicly supported by the head of the Cornwall Alliance, which has mobilized prominent religious right leaders to argue that the environmental movement is a false anti-God religion. Evangelical pollster George Barna reported this year that only 19 percent of evangelicals believe that humans have absolutely caused climate change — less than half the figure for the general public.
Even a nomination that has troubled some Republicans, Trump’s pick of Vladimir Putin pal Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State, is not likely to cause concern among religious right leaders who adore the Russian dictator for his antigay policies and defense of “Christian civilization” against a secular and decadent West. (Although some, like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, have found fault with his support, while national president, of the Boy Scouts, for allowing openly gay boys to participate.)
And, of course, the religious right is looking forward to Trump naming a Supreme Court justice from a list prepared by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society.
No wonder religious right leaders, some of whom declared Trump anointed by God and foretold by prophecy, are now viewing him as an answer to their prayers, a means to advance their Christian-nation vision for America. It’s hard to imagine even Ted Cruz granting more of their wishes.
PETER MONTGOMERY is a senior fellow at People for the American Way.