Latest NeverTrump Ruse: Where Are the Evangelicals?

Bill Kristol is obsessed with Stormy Daniels.

The NeverTrumper and editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard has posted several snarky tweets over the past few days, alluding to the reported affair between Daniels, a porn video star, and the president more than a decade ago. (Ratio of Stormy tweets to FISA memo tweets is 7-to-1.) Kristol, a once-respected “conservative” influencer, has found his “inner socialist” and “inner liberal” since Trump won the presidency over his emotional objections and dead-flat-wrong prediction that Trump would lose in a landslide.

It seems that Kristol has also found his inner high-school sophomore:

(Kristol also recently started a #NeverPence hashtag because the monogamous, won’t-have-dinner-alone-with-another-woman, preacher-ish vice president didn’t condemn Trump’s purported “shithole” comment, and said he “doesn’t know” if he would vote for Pence if he were the nominee against Joe Biden. Who, at this point, could possibly meet Kristol’s lofty expectations?)

Now that Trump is executing a policy agenda these so-called “conservatives” have wanted for decades, Trump foes on the Right are struggling for purpose and attention. The NeverTrumpers glom on to the tiniest morsel of a scandal, and—aided by their compatriots in the Trump-hating media—blow up the controversy until it’s a cudgel used to batter both the president and his supporters. They have seamlessly moved on from days of inflating and legitimizing Trump’s alleged “shithole” remarks to exploiting a trash-tabloid account of Trump’s reported extramarital tryst with Daniels.

He’s been dubbed “The Porn President,” and the Weekly Standard’s Rachael Larimore oddly suggested we should dump Trump just like Stormy did: “Pay attention, America . . . right now Donald Trump is brushing the hair off your shoulder. He is kissing your neck and asking you to stay. Get annoyed. And get up and go.” (Go where, exactly?)

In a cover piece posted over the weekend, Standard editors pooh-poohed how Trump’s first-year accomplishments “could have been expected from a generic Republican” president blessed with a Republican Congress, and again mentioned the rumored affair, caterwauling that it “barely registered” any media attention or public interest. (Hey, Standard folks, maybe if you didn’t act as if every tweet and utterance was an impeachable offense, you might see some genuine concern about this story. See how that works?)

To spark outrage among Trump’s impassive base, NeverTrumpers quickly assembled the “what if Obama did this!” strawman (whataboutism is only legit when employed by the anti-Trump mob) because we all know it’s A-OK for a president to corrupt federal agencies to punish your political enemies and sell-out our national security if you don’t cheat on your wife, right? Don’t worry about FISA abuse! Look, I bought Michelle flowers!

Another Meaningless Exercise in Moral Preening
But it isn’t enough for the NeverTrumpers to call on Trump to repent, or demand that Trump hoi polloi exhibit some modicum of shame; they are openly questioning why evangelical leaders aren’t pounding on the pulpit, atoning for their great sin of backing a president whom the sanctimonious NeverTrumpers have deemed indecent and immoral.

Jonah Goldberg has written about this twice in the past week: “I am at a loss as to how various social- and religious-conservative leaders can, with clear conscience, or even a straight face, shrug off this kind of thing, never mind defend it. If you’ve dedicated your professional or pastoral life to upholding and enforcing public standards of decency, there is no principled argument for giving Trump a pass. At the very least, Jerry Falwell & Co. should be condemning Trump’s behavior.”

In a follow-up, Goldberg admits there is really nothing other than moralistic preening to be gained by an evangelical thrashing of Trump: “So why not just say that you condemn the behavior, you’re disappointed in it, etc.? You could then add that the president is doing important things, we only have one president at a time, blah blah blah.” So it’s a meaningless exercise but Falwell & Co. should do it anyway because Goldberg & Co. want their political pound of flesh, so to speak?

Why Only Evangelicals?
David French also wonders why Christian conservatives are silent on “porngate” (please see advice to the Weekly Standard, above) and wrote that he “wholeheartedly” agrees with Goldberg: “Social conservatives (especially Christian conservatives) should unequivocally condemn Donald Trump’s now almost-certain affair with a porn star. They should speak with the exact same level of conviction and apply the same standards that they’d apply to a Democrat caught in the same sleazy circumstances. After all, Republican adultery is every bit as repugnant as Democratic adultery.”

Now, I am not an evangelical—I don’t even go to church—but what, precisely, are these Christian leaders supposed to say? Are they supposed to put some sort of religious hex on the White House?

Furthermore, why is it only evangelicals whom the NeverTrumpers are confronting? My husband and daughters are Catholic and the last time I checked, this type of behavior is unacceptable in the Catholic Church as well: White Catholics voted for Trump over Clinton, 60 percent to 37 percent, and nearly early every Catholic I know voted for Trump.

Why aren’t the NeverTrumpers asking priests and bishops to speak up? I would assume adultery is also frowned upon in Kristol’s and Goldberg’s Jewish faith as well, but I haven’t seen any denunciations from outspoken rabbis. Are all of these religious leaders, as Goldberg suggests, cowards who are fearful to criticize an “incredibly thin-skinned” president?

I doubt it. Catholic leaders haven’t minced any words when it comes to opposing Trump’s immigration policies; Pope Francis has repeatedly torched the president’s view on climate change. The idea that anyone is being “silenced” or is afraid to disparage the president in this non-stop loop of Trump invective is hilarious.

What good would it do for social conservatives to speak out about something that may have happened over a decade ago? As Goldberg mocked the collective crickets—“If you condemn an adulterous affair in 2018 will that somehow trigger a time machine that lets Hillary win?”—he answers his own question. There is no time machine that lets us go back and change our vote (even if we wanted to) because Trump might have had an extramarital affair. What is the point?

We Knew Who We Were Voting For
Well, the point behind the evangelical-shaming is to force a religious group that voted for Trump by a wide margin to partially admit Goldberg and his anti-Trump compatriots are right: He is unfit to be president. If evangelicals, let alone all Trump voters, could trust that Goldberg & Co. were really interested in somehow holding the Right’s moralistic high ground, perhaps there would be interest in doing so. But it sounds much more like a ruse, a way for NeverTrumpers to (again) join the media in caricaturing devout Christians as hypocrites for voting for Donald Trump, and the mea culpa would be weaponized to score political points.

Those of us who voted for Trump knew what we were getting into. As Julie Ponzi wrote, “This man was hired to do a particular job the voters want done. He is not auditioning to be our boyfriend, our husband, our father, or especially our priest. We needn’t endorse every aspect of a man’s character (and one hopes that with many past presidents people did not imagine they were doing that!) in order to think he is qualified to do the job we want done and will do it well.”

I get that Goldberg, French, and pretty much everyone who’s troubled by the squalid condition of national politics wants to restore some decency to it. Looking for “I told ya so” vindication from religious leaders isn’t exactly an effective way to do it.

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