‘Render to God and Trump’: Ralph Reed calls for 2020 obedience to Trump

An upcoming book by the Faith and Freedom Coalition founder will argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent GOP leader.

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.

The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — commanding hordes of white evangelical voters from his perch on the candidate’s religious advisory board to trust that the New York businessman would grow the economy, defend religious freedom and dismantle federal protections for abortion, if elected.

According to the book’s description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.

Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.” The publisher declined to comment on the reason for the title change.

In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.

He will also rebut claims by religious and nonreligious critics that white evangelical Protestants “revealed themselves to be political prostitutes and hypocrites” by overwhelmingly backing Trump, a twice-divorced, admitted philanderer, in 2016.

“Critics charge that evangelical Trump supporters … have so thoroughly compromised their witness that they are now disqualified from speaking out on moral issues in the future,” the description reads.

Reed, who once said Trump’s comments about women in the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape were low on his “hierarchy of concerns,” belongs to an informal group of evangelical leaders — including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and Paula White — who have become some of the president’s most devoted fans and vocal defenders since he took office. They have cast his foray into politics as divinely inspired; equated him to biblical figures such as Esther, an Old Testament heroine; and frequently cited Scripture to rationalize his most controversial policies — actions that other religious scholars and leaders have found particularly cringeworthy.

“I think evangelical efforts would be far better spent critiquing their own shortcomings than sanctifying a president,” said Matthew Rowley, a research associate with the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies at Clare College.

For his part, Trump has inspired loyalty among his white evangelical base by positioning himself as a warrior against the secular culture they fear. He’s frequently appeared at conferences hosted by conservative Christian groups, including the “Road to Majority” summit put on by Reed’s organization each summer; strengthened conscience protections for religious Americans in the labor force; nominated dozens of socially conservative judges for lifetime federal appointments; and fervently supported Israel.

“Part of the reason why many religious leaders support Trump is because he is great on life, religious freedom, judges, Israel, taxes, conscience protections, fetal issue and also because Hillary Clinton and his would-be opponents next year are so awful on all of the above,” a senior administration official said.

But the same official said there‘s a difference between the president’s alliance with influential evangelical leaders and his private reaction to those who publicly fawn over his administration. Asked about Reed’s book, in particular, this person responded, “Oh, for crying out loud.”

It shows how little they understand Donald Trump. He actually abhors obsequiousness,” the official said.

Indeed, the president has been known to mock right-wing television personalities and former aides who have showered him with praise on their shows and in books. After an on-air interview with Sean Hannity in which the pro-Trump Fox News host admitted to warning Trump on Election Day that he was likely to lose, the president reportedly complained to aides about Hannity’s “dumb” softball questions. Trump also teased former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now serves as one of his personal attorneys, after he unabashedly defended him in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape scandal, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Reed, however, hasn’t always heaped praise on the president. At the height of the Trump administration’s family separation scandal at the U.S.-Mexico border, the former Georgia Republican Party chairman penned a letter to lawmakers encouraging them to pass an immigration bill that would “strengthen the nuclear family” by ending the “heartbreaking and tragic” practice of placing migrant children and their parents in different detention facilities. And a person close to Reed said he has at times taken issue with the president’s obscene tweets and profanity-laced speeches.

But when it comes to protecting the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, Reed has gone all-in. His group invested $18 million in get-out-the-vote efforts during last year’s midterm cycle, and he has warned conservative Christians that “pretty much everything” is on the line in 2020.

“Our plan in 2020 is to have 500 paid staff and about 5,000 volunteers. Some of these folks are knocking on doors eight hours a day,” Reed recently said on a podcast.

Reed’s book is expected to be released next April, seven months before voters will decide whether to reelect Trump. He has written seven books, including three political novels.

Evangelical Leaders Are Frustrated at G.O.P. Caution on Kavanaugh Allegation

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.

Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.

The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies.

One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House.

“If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”

The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.”

Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right — which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli — have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government. If Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, and recent political history is any guide, voters will most likely point the finger not at Mr. Trump but at Republican lawmakers.

.. The reason the prospect of Judge Kavanaugh’s defeat is so alarming to conservatives is that they fear he could be the last shot at reshaping the nation’s highest court for years. If Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, where they hold a 51-to-49 majority, in November, Mr. Trump would find it difficult to get anyone confirmed before the end of the year. Even if Senate leaders were able to schedule hearings and hold a vote, there could be defections from Republican senators uneasy about using a lame duck session to ram through a lifetime appointment that would tip the court’s ideological balance.

.. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, said he did not know who was telling the truth, Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey. “But I can say with absolute certainty,” he added, “that the Democrats don’t care who is telling the truth. Their only interest is in delaying and derailing this confirmation.”

.. The importance of the Supreme Court to the Trump White House and the Republican Party is difficult to overstate. Mr. Trump has heralded Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh, his two Supreme Court nominees, as crowning achievements in an otherwise uneven presidency.

.. Conservative groups have spent tens of millions of dollars building the men up as legal luminaries, gentleman scholars and the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to nominate judges who have “a record of applying the Constitution just as it was written,”

.. A relatively smooth, predictable confirmation fight has also been a key part of Republicans’ strategy to keep the Senate. In the 10 states that Mr. Trump won where Democratic senators are up for re-election, Republicans have attacked Democrats for either opposing the judge or remaining noncommittal.

.. some are also arguing that they cannot be indifferent and insensitive to a victim.

.. But many conservatives see little use in being deferential when, they argue, the Democrats play by no such rules. They look back at the failed confirmation of the Republican nominee Robert Bork in 1987, whose writings on civil rights were picked over by Democrats, and the 1991 hearings for Clarence Thomas, who faced testimony from Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her, and they see a sophisticated and ruthless Democratic machine bent on discrediting their nominees.

.. “Republicans are right, as a moral matter as well as a political matter, to take allegations of misbehavior like this seriously,” said Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project and a veteran social conservative strategist. “At the same time, we’ve seen anything and everything thrown at Republican Supreme Court nominees for decades,” he added, noting that Republicans have been slow to understand that Democrats are “playing by different rules.”

.. Privately, some conservatives were thrilled that Dr. Blasey and her lawyer have resisted the opportunity to testify in the Senate on Monday and demanded instead that the F.B.I. first investigate her claims. That would be just enough, they said, to give Republicans the justification for moving forward without her. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, made clear on Wednesday that he would not postpone a hearing past Monday.

.. sets up a fight that Republicans could win in the Senate but might ultimately lose at the ballot box in November. The level of outrage could run so hot among Democrats, who would likely use every procedural and political tool at their disposal to delay confirmation, that it could provide even more fuel to an already energized liberal base.

.. “Given the confirmation theatrics, followed by this allegation that was held until the last moment, this could be seen as another partisan attack and could actually fuel conservative turnout,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

.. Conservatives are likely to use protests and other forms of resistance to Judge Kavanaugh as a way to clarify for unmotivated Republican voters what Democratic control of the Senate means: a Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice would never be confirmed again.

“If Chuck Schumer is majority leader and Dianne Feinstein is chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” said Mr. Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “it will be open season on any Trump nominee to the federal bench at any level of the judiciary.”

Politics For some evangelicals, a choice between Moore and morality

“What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy,” said John Fea, an evangelical Christian who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character. Their goal is the same as it was 30 years ago, to restore America to its Christian roots, but the political playbook has changed.

.. No, the decision to stick with Moore is not just a power play — rather, it’s an evolving view of human nature, said Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member Dallas First Baptist Church and perhaps the most prominent evangelical supporter of President Trump.

“For evangelical Christians, morality doesn’t change,” Jeffress said. “But over the last 40 years, Americans have become more aware of the flaws of individuals. Remember how shocked Christians like Billy Graham were when they heard Nixon’s tapes — his foul language, his racist remarks. We’re more aware now because of media scrutiny that our leaders are flawed and morality cannot be the only measure.”

Jeffress argued that Christians have come to see that although morality remains important in choosing candidates, “leadership, experience, morality and faith are all important, and the rank of those changes according to circumstances.”

.. In supporting Trump, Jeffress decided that although the president “may not be a perfect Christian, he is a good leader.” About 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump last year, exit polls showed.

.. Land still believes in a line he attributes to Harry Truman, about how if a man lies to his wife, he’ll lie to me and the American people. “In an ideal world, you wouldn’t want anybody working for you who’d broken his marriage vows,” Land said. “But I understand that would disqualify a number of our presidents.”

.. Context matters, Land said. Trump was “my last choice among the Republican presidential candidates” in last year’s primaries, largely because of character questions, Land said. In the end, he voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton and agreed to serve on a Trump advisory board because “I had to choose between a lesser evil and a greater evil. Mrs. Clinton called abortion sacrosanct, so I already knew what I needed to know.” 

.. Other evangelical leaders have shifted their rhetoric through the years. Ralph Reed, the longtime head of the Christian Coalition, said in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s White House affair with Monica Lewinsky rendered him unfit to serve. “We will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character,” he said at the time.

In 2016, however, Reed, who did not respond to a request for comment, said after the release of videotape showing Trump boasting of grabbing women by their genitals that a recording “of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on [evangelicals’] hierarchy of their concerns.”

.. “A watershed moment was 1980,” he said. “Evangelical Christians chose between a born-again Baptist Sunday school teacher and a twice-married Hollywood actor who had signed the most liberal abortion bill and whose wife practiced astrology. And evangelicals chose Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.”

 

Trump’s religious dealmaking pays dividends

“We don’t need a religious president,” said Burns, who was touched by the gift and recounted the story in a recent interview. “We need a president who can build relationships with people.”

.. And now, that transactional cycle seems likely to shape his White House agenda on issues of interest to the religious right.

.. But as much as religious conservative leaders respected Bush’s personal evangelical bona fides, they say that Trump — a man who has struggled to articulate his faith principles and is unapologetic about his tabloid-worthy personal life — has made more concrete commitments. They range from his pledge to appoint only Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion rights — a commitment Bush wouldn’t make — to his vow to defund Planned Parenthood.

.. He ultimately won the support of nearly every politically prominent Christian leader and landed 81 percent of the evangelical vote, a higher percentage than Bush netted in 2004.

.. “I think that he understood that his best and likely only chance to win the nomination and ultimately the presidency was to compete for and win the support of voters of faith,” said Ralph Reed

.. “I will say, having been involved with administrations from Reagan’s forward, this is the most solicitous that any incoming administration has been for input from evangelicals concerning personnel decisions that I’ve experienced,” Land said

.. ‘He’s very grateful for the faith community, he wants your input.’ That didn’t even happen under George W. Bush. They were willing to take our recommendations, but they didn’t actively solicit them three times before inauguration.”

.. He has not yet reached out to National Presbyterian Church, which has a rich political history — Ronald Reagan attended services there, Dwight D. Eisenhower laid a cornerstone there

.. “I think Norman Vincent Peale is the definition of a kind of transactional religion where it’s all about getting ahead,” said Blair, who has also written about Peale’s effect on the Trumps.

.. “Norman Vincent Peale’s message was, do whatever it takes to be successful, everything is transactional,”

.. Members of the evangelical advisory board certainly don’t question Trump’s faith, but they tend to be more voluble in describing his policy promises than in the particulars of what he believes. And to them, that’s what matters most.

.. “He said, ‘the only way I’m going to get to heaven is by repealing the Johnson amendment,’” which restricts tax-exempt churches from engaging in political activity, Land recalled. “Immediately, one of our people on the call said, ‘No, sir, the only way you’re going to get to heaven is by trusting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.’ Mr. Trump said, ‘Thank you for reminding me.’”