More than a year ago, Donald Trump received a memo from a campaign adviser telling him how to speak to the evangelical Christian crowd at the upcoming Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. (Why did he need help when the Bible was his favorite book? Because, as with practically every else associated with Trump, that was a lie.)
What’s interesting is the advice Trump was given, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. Rather than encouraging him to be honest with the audience (which he can’t do), or stick to his conservative principles (which he doesn’t have), or explicitly state his support for evangelical beliefs (which would alienate others), the document told him how the thread the needle to make everybody happy.
On the issue of abortion, one memo urged, “Unless you are specifically asked, it is not beneficial to state that you support the exceptions of life of the mother, rape, and incest.” Another suggested that Trump “DEFLECT” any debate questions about school prayer by saying, “I employ thousands of individuals and make sure my employees have the freedom to express their faith however they see fit.” If asked whether he believed in “creationism or evolution,” an adviser suggested the candidate respond, “I believe in both” — and then added in a parenthetical, “(Mr. Trump — we may want to follow up on this.)”
Each of those suggestions warrants discussion.
While Trump has gone on the record about those three exceptions to abortion, his running mate Mike Pence has signed legislation that did not make an exception for rape or incest. Reporters would be wise to bring up these differences.
The strategy to avoid questions about school prayer says a lot about what evangelicals want. They can already pray in school; that’s not in doubt. What they want are mandatory Christian prayers in public schools. And Trump was told to ignore the topic because telling Christians what they wanted to hear would have become a huge, indefensible talking point for his opponents.
But that last one is really something. Knowing Trump has no clue about the origins of our species — it would require thinking about a topic other than himself — someone urged him to say he accepts two completely contradictory ideas. Evangelical Christians are famous for their embrace of Young Earth Creationism. Proclaiming that he supports theistic evolution — God created us but uses evolution to help us adapt — is a way to make all sides happy. But there’s no scientific justification for it. (It would be wildly entertaining to hear someone ask Trump how old the universe is.)
None of these suggestions worked, by the way.
At that event in Iowa, Trump told the audience that he never asked for forgiveness, swore during his speech, and reassured the crowd that “I eat the little cracker.” Since then, he’s made several more gaffes, including the infamous “Two Corinthians” line.
One of the biggest storylines in this election is arguably how evangelicals will vote. They’ve consistently supported Republicans for decades now, and Trump’s choice of Pence was made in part to secure their votes. But how loyal will Christians be to a man who’s clearly faking his faith, treats his critics with contempt (even when they’re the parents of soldiers who died in war), and lies with reckless abandon? Sure, they have a better chance at filling the Supreme Court in a favorable way with a Republican in charge, but is it worth aligning themselves with a racist, thin-skinned, narcissistic, ignorant demagogue?
It they do, I suspect the youth march away from religion will proceed even faster.