Donald Trump’s Legal Troubles Won’t Hurt Him at All in the GOP Primary – and Evangelicals are to Blame: Once again, former US President Donald Trump is on the verge of an indictment.
When he entered the Republican primary in 2015, Trump bought her silence on the affair with a pay-off via his now-alienated former attorney, Michael Cohen.
As is typical with Trump, the details are lurid and salacious, but ultimately, the public fallout will be minimal.
One of the many remarkable changes Donald Trump has wrought in the Republican party since his ‘hostile takeover’ is the jettisoning of concern about the morality and personal fitness of leaders.
In the 1990s, this was such a crucial issue for GOP voters that it lead to the impeachment of a president caught in an affair.
In the early 2000s, George W. Bush’s claim to have defeated alcoholism by being born again helped bond the evangelical community – a massive block of GOP voters – to him.
Donald Trump Ends the Politics of Personal Morality
Donald Trump ended this GOP obsession with leaders’ behavior. His life is grossly out of step with the uprightness evangelicals claim to demand from the leadership.
He routinely engages in coarse, bullying behavior in public. He has been married three times and cheated on all three wives. He scarcely took the job of president seriously. He stayed in the presidential residence for long hours, causing his staff to coin the expression ‘executive time’ to excuse time almost certainly spent watching TV and playing on his phone.
He very obviously did not prepare for his administration’s initiatives. When he met North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, he went into the negotiations unbriefed. Despite elevating a border wall to a central policy focus, his administration little on it when it controlled Congress.
Yet his voters love it.
No matter what scandals or misbehavior Trump has gotten caught up in, he has never faced serious political consequences. He may face legal ones – if he is indeed indicted this time – but I doubt that will move GOP voters at all in the coming 2024 primary contest. Trump was caught on tape in 2015 admitting to sexual assault…and nothing happened.
Trump sensed early that his voters loved him because he was a raucous fighter in the culture war and that they just did not care what he did.
Indeed, his very transgressiveness – his willingness to be gleefully politically incorrect – excited his voters even more (which is why I predict he will beat the bland Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the coming primary).
This was the root of Trump’s famous claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and nothing would happen to him.
The problem, of course, is that the very constituency – evangelicals – who demanded morality in politics is also Trump’s strongest voting block. This is deeply hypocritical, and it will cost evangelicals dearly in the future.
The evangelical claim to clean up U.S. politics is now a sham. Donald Trump cannot be the avatar of the party of ‘family values’ and conservative morality. Trump’s behavior – his gleeful belligerence, sexual aggression, religious indifference, sloth, and demeaning treatment of women – is impossible to square with the rise of moralism in U.S. politics represented by the religious right going back to the 1970s.
If morality is simply tactical, then the religious right loses any special claim to status in American politics and just becomes another interest group.
Religious conservatives got what they wanted from Trump – a conservative Supreme Court which rolled back abortion rights – but the cost is the end of their credibility. If Bill Clinton could be impeached over a consensual affair, then evangelicals should have supported the two impeachments of the far-worse Trump. They did not.
This is a loss for American politics. When I worked for Republicans in Ohio in the 1990, evangelical volunteers were the most committed and sincere we worked with. Their passion for a cleaner politics and upright leaders struck me as genuine, even as I disagreed with their personalization of politics. It was pretty shocking to see people who knew just how awful Trump’s personal behavior was, endorse him nonetheless.
Evangelicals, with their insistence on uprightness, should have acted as a firewall against a dodgy grifter like Trump. They can find satisfaction with other, more disciplined figures like DeSantis. Yet instead, they went all in on Trump, even claiming him to be some divine vehicle of American redemption.
When Donald Trump finally fades from the scene, this will delegitimize future evangelical claims against decadent politicians. No one will believe them again.