Franklin Graham, a leader among the conservative Christian defenders of Donald Trump (as is Tony Perkins), continued his defense Tuesday on CNN Tonight, but host Don Lemon wasn’t having it.
“I don’t understand the cognitive dissonance of Christians and [other] people who twist themselves into pretzels to try to make excuses for Donald Trump’s bad behavior,” the out journalist told Graham after the latter defended Trump by saying Trump’s extramarital affairs occurred before he was president and that his rough way of speaking reflects his business background. Lemon accused religious right leaders of overlooking Trump’s flaws because he embraces policies they support (something Perkins essentially admitted this week).
Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, founded by his father, said that’s not the case. He said he doesn’t believe the story that Trump had a sexual encounter with adult-film star Stormy Daniels back in 2006, while Trump was married to his current wife, Melania, and just a few months after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron. Trump has said the encounter did not occur, and Daniels once said it happened but now denies it, having signed a nondisclosure agreement and received a $130,000 payout through Trump’s lawyer.
“Why do you need a $130,000 payoff if you didn’t [have the affair]?” Lemon challenged Graham.
Graham, though, continued his defense of Trump, saying, “I’m more interested, Don, in who a person is today than what they were 11 years ago, and I believe he’s a changed person.” Graham said Trump has matured.
Lemon, however, pointed out that Trump’s bad behavior has continued up to the present. He mentioned that many women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, that the president has claimed it wasn’t actually him on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, and that he relentlessly attacks those who disagree with him, and Lemon also brought up Trump’s remark about immigrants from “shithole countries.”
Graham contended that some senators said Trump didn’t use that word in a White House meeting, and he attempted to justify the president’s use of crude language on other occasions by saying he’s a businessman, not a politician, and uses the language he does to get points across.
Lemon, who attended Catholic school and a Baptist church as a child, also used quotes from the Bible to challenge Graham, saying, “The Bible and everyone always taught me to do unto others and not attack others, and that’s all this president does.”
“He’s not the pastor of our country, Don,” Graham responded. He said he hopes Trump will grow into a better “moral authority” in the next three years.
Earlier in the interview, Lemon had noted that there were no allegations of extramarital affairs or other misconduct by President Barack Obama, yet evangelical Christian leaders didn’t support him. Graham said he couldn’t support Obama because of his stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Graham also said God chose Trump to be president. “I believe Donald Trump is a good man,” he said. “He did everything wrong as a candidate and he won, and I don't understand it. Other than I think God put him there.”
Watch the full interview below.