WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump isn’t exactly a paragon of Christian virtue. A close reading of the Ten Commandments would find him guilty of adultery, theft, bearing false witness and coveting more than a few neighbors’ houses, wives and servants. There’s no documented evidence of him committing murder, but there are definitely bad jokes to be made about some of his business ventures and the GOP’s midterm chances.
Nevertheless, Trump’s questionable piety wasn’t a problem for attendees at last week’s Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference in D.C. ― one of the year’s largest gatherings of conservative Christian political activists. These political crusaders cited the president’s accomplishments ― like appointing conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and loosening restrictions on religious institutions engaging in political activity ― as evidence that Trump himself is a near-miracle.
“I am genuinely excited about what God is doing in America right now,” proclaimed Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) during his address to the conference on Saturday morning. He credited the GOP’s November triumphs to the prayers of conservatives who had beseeched God to set in motion a “refounding of our nation.”
Trump the man didn’t feature strongly in Loudermilk’s remarks; however, the congressman’s excitement for Washington’s current single-party rule implied he was imminently impressed that Donald Trump is a Republican with a pulse.
Indeed, to hear the language employed by speakers and attendees at last week’s gathering, Trump the ally ― the crude but reliable vector for the Christian conservative agenda ― is a welcome development, though Trump’s personal morality doesn’t meet their standards. Even if they think eternal hellfire may await the commander-in-chief in the hereafter, for the time being all they can hear is harps.
“It is June of 2017 and Hillary Clinton is not the president of the United States,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Trump’s former opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, said to a hearty round of applause on Thursday morning. Cruz then referenced Gorsuch’s confirmation, earning even greater applause.
Trump’s name only came up several times during Cruz’s speech, despite his focus on the political situation. Rather conspicuously, the Texas lawmaker chose instead to refer to “the administration” or “the president.” Like Loudermilk and so many of the Road to Majority attendees, Cruz had clearly decided to close his eyes and think of England ― or if not England, at least a more conservative D.C. Circuit.
“This is a strange time in Washington,” Cruz said diplomatically, imploring the administration, among others, to “ignore the political circus” and “focus on delivering results.”
In his own remarks to the conference, Trump didn’t focus much on his own faith, but instead tallied his accomplishments on behalf of this key Republican constituency. He did, however, sneak in a reference to the thing that he and the assembled activists share most deeply: a sense of ongoing persecution.
“As you know, we’re under siege. You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch,” Trump said Thursday. “You fought hard for me, and now I’m fighting hard for all of you.”
Nothing seemed to dampen the excitement inside the Omni Shoreham hotel in Northwest D.C., not even pride weekend, which overlapped with the gathering. One year ago, many of these activists thought they would be contending with President Hillary Clinton and a far more liberal agenda. That thousands of LGBTQ Americans and their allies were parading through the capital was of little concern. Yes, the president once referred to “Two Corinthians” while citing a Bible passage and, yes, he has admitted to sexually assaulting women, but in the eyes of attendees, he’s still better than Hillary Clinton.
Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway most aptly summarized the mood during an interview with Faith and Freedom chair Ralph Reed.
“I admit I thank God everyday and click my heels three times and say, ‘She is not the president. She is not the president. She is not the president,’ and it helps!”
“I want you to know that we not only have his back, but we have your back, and we love you,” Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of Faith and Freedom, gushed as he wrapped up the interview with Conway.
Love may not have been the pervasive attitude this past weekend, but the relief certainly was palpable.
Mark Repke, an anti-abortion activist from Virginia, told HuffPost he’s happy with Trump’s judicial nominations and efforts to strip Planned Parenthood of funding, but says it “absolutely” can be difficult reconciling Trump’s personal indiscretions with his favorable record as president.
“Trump wasn’t my No.1 candidate ― he wasn’t in my top five,” recalled Repke, who voted for businesswoman Carly Fiorina in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “The reality is, he’s 50 times better than Hillary Clinton.”
Standing beside his conference vendor booth ― a display case featuring tiny baby-shaped hand soaps that he says represent the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood clinics each year ― Repke said conservatives needed to approach the matter of Trump with a degree of realism.
“There are people out here who couldn’t lead a starving man to food, but they’re good people,” observed Repke. “That doesn’t help any.”
That said, Repke is still hopeful for the president’s soul.
“I pray ... that he will find the guidance to temper some of his tweets,” he said with a chuckle. “Paul is the rock on which the Church is built. He used to kill Christians, that was his job! I don’t think that God takes the best of us, I think he takes those of us who are most flawed and who understand our flaws and does great things with them.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting to this article.