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What it Would Take for Evangelicals to Turn on President Trump

One night in 1953, the Reverend Billy Graham awoke at two in the morning, went to his study, and started writing down ideas for the creation of a new religious journal. Graham, then in his mid-thirties, was an internationally renowned evangelist who held revival meetings that were attended by tens of thousands, in stadiums around the world. He had also become the leader of a cohort of pastors, theologians, and other Protestant luminaries who aspired to create a new Christian movement in the United States that avoided the cultural separatism of fundamentalism and the theological liberalism of mainline Protestantism. Harold Ockenga, a prominent minister and another key figure in the movement, called this more culturally engaged vision of conservative Christianity “new evangelicalism.” Graham believed a serious periodical could serve as the flagship for the movement. The idea for the publication, as he later wrote, was to “plant the Evangelical flag in the middle of the road, taking a conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems.” The magazine would be called Christianity Today.

During the next several decades, Graham’s movement became the dominant force in American religious life, and perhaps the country’s most influential political faction. From the late nineteen-seventies through the mid-eighties, evangelicals became increasingly aligned with the Republican Party, progressively shifting its priorities to culture-war issues like abortion. Today, evangelical Protestants account for approximately a quarter of the U.S. population and represent the political base of the G.O.P. Despite President Trump’s much publicized moral shortcomings, more than eighty per cent of evangelicals supported him in the 2016 election. Last week, however, Mark Galli, the ninth editor to lead Christianity Today since its founding, in 1956, published an editorial calling for President Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. “The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli writes. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” Galli, who will retire from his post early in the new year, implores evangelicals who continue to stand by Trump to “remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Galli and other contributors to the magazine have been critical of Trump in the past, but the forcefulness of the editorial took many by surprise. The piece became a sensation, trending online and receiving widespread media coverage. On Twitter, Trump lashed out at the magazine, labelling it a “far left” publication that “has been doing poorly.” Graham’s eldest son, Franklin, who became the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after his father’s death, in 2018, claimed that his father would have been “very disappointed” by the piece and had, in fact, voted for Trump in the 2016 election. “It’s obvious that Christianity Today has moved to the left and is representing the elitist liberal wing of evangelicalism,” Franklin wrote on Facebook. On Sunday, Timothy Dalrymple, Christianity Today’s president and chief executive officer, issued a statement defending the editorial and reaffirming one of Galli’s assertions: that “the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness”—the heart of believers’ evangelistic mission.

There has long been a segment of evangelical leaders and commentators who are critical of the President, including Russell Moore, the head of the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention; Peter Wehner, the author of the recent book “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump”; and David French, a writer and constitutional lawyer whom anti-Trump conservatives courted, unsuccessfully, to mount a third-party bid against Trump in 2016. The Christianity Today editorial reflects much of their distress—about the moral hypocrisy of Christian supporters of Trump, the damage done to efforts to serve as ambassadors for the gospel in an unbelieving world, and the ways Trump and his Administration have perpetuated racism, xenophobia, and other traits that are antithetical to the God of justice and mercy. In late 2017, the Reverend Timothy Keller, a renowned Presbyterian pastor in New York City, wrote a piece for The New Yorker on the future of evangelicalism, with the headline “Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?” “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite,’ ” Keller writes. Last year, a group of evangelical pastors, nonprofit leaders, college presidents, and scholars convened at the Billy Graham Center, at Wheaton College, in Illinois, to discuss ways to revitalize the movement in light of its turn toward Trumpism. The meeting disbanded with little to show for it, but the organizers issued a press release that states that an “honest dialogue about the current state of American evangelicalism” had occurred.

There has been little to suggest that these rumblings of dissent represent any kind of threat to Trump’s political support. Many of these Trump critics might be best understood as part of a more urban, internationalist, and broad-minded élite class within the evangelical movement. In his 2007 book, “Faith in the Halls of Power,” D. Michael Lindsay, a former sociologist at Rice University and currently the president of Gordon College, distinguished between “cosmopolitan” and “populist” evangelicalism. The populist wing of the movement “depends on mass mobilization and large-scale democratic action” and “relies upon a rhetoric of dichotomies (as in ‘good’ and ‘evil’) and appeals to the commonsense concerns of average people,” Lindsay writes. He points to prominent figures such as James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, and the pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen as representatives of populist evangelicalism. He describes cosmopolitan evangelicals as having “greater access to powerful institutions” and writes that “the social networks they inhabit are populated by leaders from government, business, and entertainment.” The problem for Trump opponents is that, when it comes to electoral sway and cultural influence within evangelicalism, the populists exercise far greater leverage.

Lindsay’s focus is on documenting the emergence of the élite class of evangelicals. He devotes less attention to the root causes of differing cultural and political attitudes between cosmopolitan and populist evangelicals—though those causes may hold the key to understanding evangelicalism’s turn toward Trumpism. Earlier this year, James L. Guth, a political scientist at Furman University, published a study on the prevalence of populist traits among white evangelicals, including distrust of political institutions, preference for strong leadership, and commitment to majority rule. Guth finds that these qualities—characteristics that lead to support for populist leaders like Trump—permeate white evangelicalism. It is a disquieting conclusion and suggests that evangelical support for Trump may be far more deeply entrenched than previously understood. Guth suggests that evangelical backing of Trump is less transactional—about his ability to, say, deliver conservative appointments to the Supreme Court—and more about certain shared cultural beliefs. Guth writes that “white evangelicals share with Trump a multitude of attitudes, including his hostility towards immigrants, his Islamophobia, his racism and nativism, as well as his ‘political style,’ with its nasty politics and assertion of strong, solitary leadership.”

The crucial question, then, is: What is driving these attitudes? In a forthcoming book, “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” the sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead, a professor at Clemson University, and Samuel L. Perry, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, propose a cultural framework for understanding support for Trumpism that goes beyond religious categories. Through extensive survey work, they discover that an amalgam of cultural beliefs—fusing Christianity with American identity and centered on the belief that America is, and should be, a Christian nation—is a better predictor of support for Trump than economic dissatisfaction, political party, ideology, religion, or a host of other possible determining factors. Whitehead and Perry call this framework “Christian nationalism” and argue that the popularity of these beliefs among white evangelicals explains their support for Trump.

Notably, Whitehead and Perry find that about a quarter of white evangelicals hold beliefs that do not align with Christian nationalism. They also find that though greater religiosity is correlated with Christian-nationalist beliefs, once those beliefs are accounted for, Americans who engaged in more frequent religious practice—church attendance, prayer, and bible reading—were less likely than their less observant peers to subscribe to political views normally associated with Christian nationalism, such as believing that refugees from the Middle East pose a terrorist threat to the United States, or that illegal immigrants from Mexico are mostly dangerous criminals. In other words, Whitehead and Perry find that the threat to democratic pluralism is not evangelicalism itself but the culture around evangelicalism. The true motivator for Christian nationalists is not actually their religious beliefs but the preservation of a certain kind of social order, one that is threatened by racial minorities, immigrants, and Muslims. “Where Christian nationalists seek to defend particular group boundaries and privileges using Christian language, other religious Americans and fellow Christians who reject Christian nationalism tend to oppose such boundaries and privileges,” they write.

Their findings highlight serious obstacles for anyone hoping that white evangelicals will abandon Trump, but they also suggest a path forward. Within evangelicalism, cultural influence in the secular world is highly prized as part of advancing the message of Christianity. Christians concerned about Trumpism and worried about the future of their faith, however, may need to turn their focus inward, to reshape the culture of evangelicalism and counter the corrosive influence of Fox News and other demagogic forces that sow division and breed suspicion. Cultural change is daunting—much of what ails the evangelical faithful is not entirely under the control of their leaders—but the challenge is not so different from the one Graham contemplated more than sixty years ago, in the middle of the night, as he launched his movement to unify Christian believers and transform them into a positive force for society.

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Buttigieg Fundraising Consultant Offered Influence to Wealthy Donor in Email

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event where he is endorsed by actor Kevin Costner, at a high school in Indianola, Iowa, U.S. December 22, 2019. (Rachel Mummey/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is facing criticism for an email one of his top fundraisers sent out that appeared to peddle influence to wealthy donors in exchange for cash contributions.

“If you want to get on the campaign’s radar now before he is flooded with donations after winning Iowa and New Hampshire, you can use the link below for donations,” read the email, which was sent by H.K. Park of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm The Cohen Group and obtained by Axios.

The Cohen Group is listed by the Buttigieg campaign as one of its top fundraisers, or those who have raised at least $25,000 for the South Bend, Indiana mayor’s campaign.

The potential donor was reportedly concerned about the nature of the campaign solicitation, saying it smacked of pay-to-play tactics.

“It’s very telling and concerning that one of the campaign’s major bundlers would talk like that,” the donor, who chose to remain anonymous, told Axios. “If that’s the way he’s operating, it’s in the public interest for people to know what’s being said.”

“What would this suggest about the way he’s going to interact with Silicon Valley if the implication is pay-for-play?” the donor added.

The Buttigieg campaign has pushed back on pay-to-play accusations, arguing that the email did not come directly from the campaign and does not represent anything other than an early call to support the candidate.

“The campaign did not see or authorize the language in this email. But it is ridiculous to interpret it as anything more than asking potential supporters who may be interested in Pete to join our campaign before caucusing and voting begins,” Buttigieg campaign spokesperson Sean Savett said. “We are proud to have more than 700,000 donors who have already donated to our campaign, and the only promise any donor will ever get from Pete is that he will use their donations to defeat Donald Trump.”

The fundraising technique, called “bundling,” is an example of the kind of high-dollar strategy that fellow Democratic 2020 candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have disavowed. During Thursday’s Democratic debate, Warren went after Buttigieg for holding a private fundraiser in a wine cave with wealthy donors.

“The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,” Warren said, referencing an opulent Napa Valley fundraiser Buttigieg attended earlier this month. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg hit back, reminding Warren that she held high-dollar fundraisers herself during her campaign for Senate and transferred the resulting funds to her presidential campaign.

“This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” the mayor said.

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How a ‘legislative terrorist’ conquered the Republican Party

In the wake of every House Republican voting against impeaching Donald Trump, it’s reasonable to see the GOP as the president’s party, remade in his image. But to truly understand the transformation of the Republican Party during the Trump years, we actually should focus on someone else: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Jordan’s journey from gadfly loathed by party leadership to ranking committee member, presidential confidant, and party leader exemplifies how the GOP has changed in the Trump Era — and how Trumpism won’t be easily undone after the 45th president leaves office.

The ideological transformation of the Republican Party has been ongoing for more than a half century. What was once the party of moderates like Dwight Eisenhower and liberals like Nelson Rockefeller, dominated by figures from the two coasts and stalwarts in the Midwest, slowly became a staunchly conservative party centered in the South.

By the time Jordan was first elected to Congress in 2006, the highly conservative Texan George W. Bush was president. But Bush had a pragmatic streak. He cut bipartisan deals on education and immigration reform (which failed thanks to a revolt led by conservative talk radio), added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, and preached compassionate conservatism.

The story of the party’s move towards total war politics and Trumpism is the story of how Jordan’s breed of politics eclipsed Bush’s brand of conservatism.

Jordan was one of the most conservative members of the House during his first two terms. But he was also insignificant with Republicans in the minority. Once the Tea Party wave swept his party to power, however, Jordan was flush with new hardline allies. He was elected to lead the Republican Study Committee, a large conservative group within the new Republican majority.

Within months, he had become a thorn in the side of House Speaker John Boehner, insisting that failing to raise the debt ceiling would not result in the United States defaulting, and opposing a leadership proposal for addressing the matter. His staff even conspired with outside groups to pressure Republicans to vote against Boehner’s proposal. Two years later, Jordan was a key player in forcing a government shutdown because President Obama would not agree to delaying and defunding his signature health-care legislation for a year — a tactic Boehner had warned would leave leading Democrats grinning because they “can’t believe we’re this f—ing stupid.” Though Republicans were widely perceived to have lost the shutdown battle, Jordan was unrepentant.

He believed that Democrats could be compelled to capitulate through the use of hardline tactics, brinkmanship, and a total unwillingness to compromise.

In 2015, Jordan became the founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a smaller, even more hardline group that would come to fight against numerous leadership initiatives. By that fall, Freedom Caucus members — against Jordan’s counsel — pushed Boehner into early retirement and helped scuttle the candidacy of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to succeed him.

While 70 percent of Freedom Caucus endorsed Paul Ryan to succeed Boehner, it was only after he made them numerous promises to secure their support. Even so, Jordan and his allies would make Ryan’s life difficult as they had Boehner’s. So much did leadership worry about Jordan that when House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz announced he would resign from Congress in 2017, leadership helped recruit Rep. Trey Gowdy to run for the position to ensure that it wouldn’t fall to Jordan.

In an interview after retiring, Boehner called Jordan a “legislative terrorist” and an “asshole.”

In an earlier era, a figure like Jordan who constantly picked fights with his own party’s leadership would have faced serious repercussions. Banishment to the most insignificant and unpleasant committees, an inability to get things done for his home district, perhaps even a primary challenge.

But in an era with a proliferation of conservative media — talk radio, cable news, and digital outlets — someone like Jordan could instead become a star by picking the same fights. Conservative media is a business and the best radio and television comes from black and white content — strongly voiced opinions, clear convictions, exhortations to principles, things that stir emotion and keep the audience tuned in. That meant that someone like Jordan preached what viewers and listeners — the Republican base — heard every day. Further, his style of politics made for far more compelling radio or television than a committee chairman or Republican leader explaining why divided government or Senate rules necessitated compromises.

This fit between the business interests of conservative media and his politics made Jordan one of the heroes on the conservative airwaves and a frequent guest. Stardom gave him too much of an independent power base by the mid-2010s for leadership to punish him meaningfully. He didn’t need them for fundraising, and any attempt at discipline would’ve sent him scurrying to the airwaves to fight back. In the end, it might’ve been leadership who lost the fight because conservative media had the ear of exactly the sorts of voters who showed up in low turnout Republican primaries, the most critical elections in most Republican districts in an era of geographic polarization.

But while conservative media helped to make Jordan impervious to leadership criticism, it didn’t make him part of that leadership. His elevation came thanks to Trump. Jordan caught the ear of Trump, and became a confidant and one of the president’s fiercest defenders.

When Republicans lost control of the House in 2018 and Ryan and Gowdy retired, new House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Steering Committee installed Jordan, with encouragement from Trump, as the ranking member of the Oversight Committee. This was a significant change from 2017, when there was doubt the Steering Committee would choose Jordan given the animosity from many Republicans towards him. And then as impeachment hearings were about to begin in front of the House Intelligence Committee, McCarthy made the unusual move of temporarily removing another Republican to add Jordan to the committee. McCarthy saw great benefit in Jordan’s trademark aggressive questioning and vigorous defense of Trump.

During those hearings, Elise Stefanik, long seen as the anti-Jim Jordan, a leadership ally, one of the most moderate Republicans in the House, and someone previously focused on solutions and bipartisanship, became an instant sensation with Jordan-like questioning and charges against Democrats, and even joined him for press conferences. Reporting indicates that this was a savvy move for Stefanik both in her Republican-leaning district and within the House GOP.

While it’s unquestionably easier for leadership to be aligned with Jordan in the minority, when they have no responsibility for governing, it’s also true that the onetime leadership antagonist is now the top Republican on a key committee and a major spokesman for the House GOP. Stefanik’s move exposes how Jordan’s tactics are what Republican voters want from their elected officials. Far from an outsider, Jordan is now part of the Republican establishment — one that sees politics much more like he does than George W. Bush. And that’s not likely to change even when Trump leaves office, be it in 2021 or 2025.

For better or worse, it’s Jim Jordan’s GOP now.

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Free Beacon Presents: Civil War! Part Deux

A great nation, divided against itself. An historically successful president, under siege. Democrats in Congress, attempting to nullify an election. Sound familiar?

The American republic slouches towards a reckoning the likes of which have not been seen since 1861. Political tensions threaten to boil over into open conflict at any moment. Meme warriors skirmish on the dark web. Dough-faced gladiators wage pitched battle in the streets of America’s cities. The winds of change blow hard, but the maws of rage suck harder.

Donald J. Trump, the most unfairly criticized commander in chief since Abraham Lincoln, recently became the third president since America’s founding to be impeached by his enemies in Congress. Trump is by far the most successful president in history to face impeachment, and the first to be impeached despite not doing anything wrong.

David Rutz breaks down the most important news about the enemies of freedom, here and around the world, in this comprehensive morning newsletter.

Sign up here and stay informed!

The president himself has warned (via Twitter citation) that efforts to remove him from office, which would effectively negate the votes of the 63 million hardworking Americans who supported him at the polls, could result in a “Civil War like fracture from which our country will never heal.”

One of the defining features of Donald Trump’s character is that he is almost never wrong. Trump will never be removed from office, and will almost certainly serve at least one more term as president. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s do-nothing obstructionism threatens to inflict a Second Civil War upon the American people, a military conflict so violent and disruptive that documentary historians will be talking about it for decades and centuries to come.

Enjoy!