Playing the Long Game – Conservative Evangelicals and the US Supreme Court

Many observers of American politics are utterly befuddled by the reaction of many Republicans, first to the candidacy and then the actual presidency of Donald Trump.

Why, so many wonder, do they tolerate, and even defend, a candidate who has so often been openly contemptuous of them and their party? He has belittled, insulted, denigrated, and bullied them, not to mention lied about them at almost every turn. And since he’s not demonstrated any discernible ideological core- other than the intrinsic goodness of his own success- it’s even difficult to tell from one day to the next if he even agrees with the party he ostensibly leads.

Then within the Republicans are those who identify as Evangelical Christians, who seem to present an even greater conundrum. How, many have wondered, in light of the strict moral code they’ve been loudly proclaiming for a century, can they now support a crass, boorish, twice-divorced serial liar who has yet to attend a church since his inauguration and spent his first address to the National Prayer Breakfast talking about Celebrity Apprentice… with profanity?

The disconnect is so striking that a good deal of the resistance to Trump has seemed to involve a strategy of drawing attention to the disconnect as much as possible, the idea presumably being that, after enough headlines and late-night talk show gags saying, ‘Look what he did today!’, Republicans- Evangelical or otherwise- will eventually be so outraged and/or embarrassed that they’ll eventually abandon the President altogether.

It’s an interesting, entertaining, and even important strategy. But having grown up in the Evangelical Christian subculture and having worked with Evangelical organizations for decades, I don’t think it’s going to work.

It assumes that Evangelicals who voted for Trump were- at best- uninformed or misinformed dupes or were- at worst- simply hypocrites. And there’s probably a bit of both in there somewhere.

But I think there’s another factor at play, one that allows for the fact that many Evangelicals might be personally unhappy, even disgusted, with Trump the man but are willing to embrace Trump the President.

To do that, Republicans- and Evangelical Christian Republicans in particular- need a lens that focuses on the very narrow, the very strategic, and the very long-term.

The lens they’re using is the Supreme Court.

In essence- unlike their liberal and progressive opponents- they aren’t looking at the absurdity of Trump in regards to the Executive Branch; they’re looking at practicalities of him regarding the Judicial Branch.

When it comes to social issues that they care about- curbing the march of LGBT rights, banning abortion, halting publicly-funded sex education, issues of religious conscience- Evangelical Christian Republicans have (so to speak) seen the writing on the wall.

They realize that the tide of public opinion, the flow of social culture, and political demographics are against them.

They realize that the scope and definition of those and other issues are interpreted by the courts, and Getting the ‘right’ kind of justices onto the Supreme Court- by which they mean a ‘strict reading’ of the Constitution- is the key factor that they look for in a Presidential candidate.

As they see it, the Constitution never mentions gay people, but it does very specifically mention guns, speech, and religion. Thus, all of the rights and protections that courts have recently given to LGBT people are seen as a dangerous overstepping of the courts’ bounds of influence. But the right of a Christian shopkeeper to refuse service to a gay couple, the rights of a pastor to publicly declare that gays are going to hell, or the right to post the Ten Commandments in a government building are all Constitutional issues of free speech and free conscience that the courts must uphold, without all these new-fangled liberal notions of ‘separation of church and state’ and ‘hate speech’.

Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now it is, of course, impossible to predict how Gorsuch would rule on this or that issue that came before the court if he is in fact appointed. Indeed, a quick look across his decision history shows him to be a reasonably thoughtful jurist.

But he leans right, certainly a lot more right than anyone Hilary Clinton would have nominated.

And that’s the clincher.  All during the election, the Supreme Court was in the background of most Republicans, particularly Evangelical Republicans.

Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments. Gorsuch is 49. Liberal stalwarts on the court like Breyer and Ginsburg are 78 and 84, respectively. There’s a realistic chance that Trump could put three new justices on the court, perhaps giving the US a right-leaning court for at least a generation, if not longer.

Are you starting to see the math? Evangelical Republicans do.

Their ‘holy grail’ remains overturning Roe V. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But even if they can’t scale that lofty height, getting solid, basically conservative justices who will-as they see it- at least begin from their basic ideological perspective is seen as a solid, strategic win.

So, despite the Trump Administration’s goofs, gaffes, recklessness, impetuousness, embarrassments, nepotism, paradoxes, potential corruptions, and conflicts of interests, many on the right- particularly the religious right- have every reason to think that things are going very well indeed.

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  • ruhah

    I agree with some of your analysis around their voting motivation but I am not sure the religious right have every reason to see milk and honey.

    Didn’t Bryon White dissent from Roe and supported overturning it. I wonder who he was appointed by? Clue.. not a elephant. The 1973 decision was passed by Berger’s conservative supreme court- 6 ‘republicans & one ‘democrat’ in favour, and one ‘republican’ and one democrat against. Certainly, Roe’s seven vote consensus has decreased over the years to 5, but it remains the fact that three of the justices keeping Roe going during their time were appointed by Republicans.

    In fact the 5/4 gay marriage ruling was written by who? Anthony Kennedy, a swing justice, and appointed by a republican.

    American Evangelicals are fools if they can do maths yet fail to learn from history.

  • GS

    Great point and one I hadn’t considered before…

  • Anon Anon

    It’s pure motivated reasoning. Trump betrays all of their principles, their values and their moral. But they want their side to win, so they are happy to put aside all that. Team Red go.

    In fairness, there was always a bit of truth to this. But Trump has revealed the hollowness of much of the Republican Party, and none more so than Evangelicals. This was a moral test, and they flunked it.

    Long term, there’ll be a cost too. People could disagree with them, but respect sincerely held beliefs. There principles give them moral force. But now we know that is all nonsense. That will have an effect long term, I think.

  • hgreen

    Trump election shows what we always knew that the majority of evangelical Christians are motivated by two things; money and hate. God, love, society, country doesn’t even come in to it.

  • BeanRua

    In addition to the Supreme Court issue, there is also Mike Pence’s position as Vice President. He is most certainly a right wing evangelical, with a not-so-hidden agenda of crushing women’s rights.
    Should Trump be impeached or otherwise removed as President, Pence is there, ready and willing to take over. I do not think this is coincidental. Pence would never have been elected as President in his own right, but by placing Trump in the White House, Pence and his cronies are just biding their time till he (Trump) completely loses the plot and they can take control.
    Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale has never before looked so real, sadly.

  • hgreen

    Apparently Pense is so attractive to members of the opposite sex he can’t be alone with another woman.

  • Brian O’Neill
  • Marcus Orr

    “with a not-so-hidden agenda of crushing women’s rights”
    Do you mean those woman’s rights which involve crushing unborn babies (male and female) to death ?

  • BeanRua

    Not necessarily, more like access to smear tests, contraception and pre or post natal care, on the health front. Don’t assume that women’s rights begin and end with abortion. That’s your agenda, not like it’s a choice you are ever going to face, seeing as you will never be pregnant, so wind your neck in.

  • Marcus Orr

    Ah, he’s trying to ban the sale of contraceptives ? Would love to see some info. on what he’s tried to do on that front…care to provide it ? Sorry to call your bluff and all that…
    By the way, an argument doesn’t have a sex, there are only good or bad arguments, so playing the “you’re a man, shut up” card is really lame…

  • Zorin001

    I’m minded of Ghandis remark “I like you Christ, I don not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

  • Enda

    An interesting piece. Also of note is fact that the White House Chief Strategist is Catholic of Irish descent, and whose world view (although still being far right) completely differs in some regards to the ideology of the Evangelical movement, even going so far as being described in some circles as anti-Semitic.

    His polarity is of a Judeo-Christian west vs the perceived encroachment of Islamist extremism in American life, which of itself is quite a selling point to many of the demographics found south of the Mason/Dixon line.

  • Marcus Orr

    Well, the evangelicals in the US had the choice between a brash, arrogant, hypocritical womanizer like Trump and a person like Hilary Clinton whose biggest money sponsor (Planned Parenthood) sells baby parts for profit, telling the abortion drs. how to kill the babies properly so that their organs remain “fresh” and “crunchy”.
    Hmm…not an easy choice – vote for no-one, a brash arrogant womanizer or someone who condones slaughter of millions of babies for profit.
    Those evangelicals really deserve the flak they’re getting for voting Trump, eh ?

  • BeanRua

    The Planned Parenthood organisation provides contraception and other reproductive health services to women and Pence cast the 1 vote needed to remove federal funding, despite the fact that abortion services are 1) a small proportion of their total work and 2) excluded from such funding already. By removing access, particularly to contraception, for uninsured/poor women, the risk of unplanned or unwanted (via rape or incest, for example) pregnancies increases. This is well documented elsewhere; see or
    As for your 2nd point, abortion IS a gendered issue. Simply put, if you don’t agree with it, don’t have one, but that does NOT give you the right to judge those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of needing one. If there is no safe legal access, women in desperate situations are likely to turn to illegal abortions with all the risks that entails. Is that what you would prefer?

  • csb

    Peddle that nonsense about Planned Parenthood somewhere else.

  • Marcus Orr

    I’m sorry, abortion services are a small part of their total work?
    They have abortion clinics all across the states ! Most of all in deprived areas of course, I thought that “Black Lives Matter” but not to PP (their organs do fetch a decent price though).
    Rape and incest, oh golly, do you have any idea of the % of abortions that take place due to rape and incest ? They happen but are very rare. I’m interested in the other 99% of cases in which the parents (wrong to also blame just the mother) decide to have a baby they don’t want to keep being cut open in parts until it bleeds to death.
    So, let me get this straight, Mr Pence voted that taxpayers money should be stopped for an organisation behaving like Dr Mengele in the WW2 camps, and you get to call him a person “crushing woman’s rights” for that reason ?

  • Marcus Orr

    It’s all proven on video actually – even Hilary Clinton herself admitted she felt “uneasy” about it.
    Sorry, but you’ll have to do better than that.

  • BeanRua

    You do realise that the video was faked and the filmmakers are now facing felony charges

  • BeanRua

    There’s really no point in having a rational discussion with you, as you obviously haven’t read the articles I linked to. There is a lot more to women’s rights than abortion, but it seems like you’re too hung up on that issue to see the bigger picture. And by the way, that was your interpretation of women’s rights, not mine, as evidenced by your initial reply. So get off your high horse and stop being so judgmental.

  • Marcus Orr

    Yes, I do know that Daleidon faces the felony charges because….he took film of people at Planned Parenthood…without their consent. If you call that “faked” well that’s a little misleading isn’t it ? (might make people actually think the interviews didn’t take place, eh).
    He lied about who he was (pretending to be someone interested in buying the baby parts from PP) in order to get the interview. It is a federal offence in the USA to do this. So PP and the Dems are throwing the book at him with everything they’ve got…to silence him. Because the truth (they sell baby parts for profit) hurts.
    So, question back to you, what do you find more morally reprehensible, lying to uncover this truth or killing babies and selling them for profit ? Over to you…

  • lizmcneill

    If the Republicans really wanted to reduce abortions, they should make contraception free for all reproductive age women. Fewer pregnancies obviously will lead to fewer abortions.

  • Marcus Orr

    I did look at the link you provided to the marketing dept. of Planned Parenthood actually, and the LA Times article.
    I responded to the LA Times article below, and let’s just say I do not accept necessarily everything that is said by an organisation making millions of dollars every year by selling baby organs from babies that it persuades women to abort.
    So…what is the bigger picture on woman’s rights then (apart from abortion) ? Which contraceptives are not freely available on the market ? What is being denied to woman ? Let me know, I’m honestly curious.

  • BeanRua

    See my reply to your earlier comment above. I am no longer willing to engage with your ill-informed and judgemental responses.

  • Zorin001

    What I find morally reprehensible is a heavily edited video lead to this:

  • lizmcneill

    Let’s say the repeal of Roe vs Wade will reduce abortions by X per year (some states will continue to have legal abortion and illegal abortions will happen, so X could be quite small). Great, say the evangelical Trump voters, we have prevented X baby murders.

    If Trump’s healthcare bill had gone through, 24 million would have lost health insurance in the near future. How many of those people would have died?
    Trump has increased the rate of drone strikes in the Middle East. How many extra casualties? When do those numbers overtake X?

  • Marcus Orr

    Yes, I agree it’s horrible to kill another innocent human being like that.
    So you’re with me then, against this crazed killer and against the Planned Parenthood killings of babies for profit, right ?
    Right ?

  • lizmcneill

    You do know they don’t have an NHS in the USA? Not much use something being freely available on the market if your healthcare refuses to cover it on religious grounds.

  • Marcus Orr

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise the pill (or a condom) was so expensive in the US…please excuse me….(!)

  • Marcus Orr

    Thanks for the conversation, it was enlightening.

  • Zorin001

    I fully support Planned Parenthood and refute what was a heavily edited video released to cause maximum damage in the lead up to the Presidential campaign.

    Unfortunately the video being a fake doesn’t make the victim in the Colorado shooting any less dead.

  • lizmcneill

    Maybe you should have researched it before posting, then.

    (Some people are allergic to condoms, some men refuse to use them, and they are less effective than other methods).

  • Marcus Orr

    The videos were released in 2015, more than one year before the election ! You really have no clue, do you ?
    And as for the video being a “fake”, if I know e.g. that you sell illegal drugs, and I lie to you that I want to buy some illegal drugs, and I film you whilst having the conversation to incriminate you, although I lied to you on not being a drug buyer, you’re still selling the drugs, right ?
    So, as that is exactly what happened with Daleidon and Planned Parenthood, could you please explain to me in what way the videos are “fake” ?

  • Marcus Orr

    Too expensive to buy, eh ?
    I just checked: 7$ 47 ct at Walmart for a packet of 12 condoms. Hmmm, that’s really prohibitive, if I can’t afford that price, and if my girlfriend gets pregnant as a result, instead of e.g. giving the child to a foster family we could just…have its brains bashed in, eh ?
    Yeah, I see your point.

  • Marcus Orr

    You edited your message since I replied.
    It is true that the pill (a drug first developed to neuter predigee bitches for dog owners) is more expensive, about 150$ per year.
    So back to my question, if you become pregnant (by accident) and feel you can’t support the baby financially, what do you do ? The human being is already there.
    Do you respect its fundamental right to life, and e.g. give it to foster parents, or do you have it put to death ?

  • Zorin001

    “The videos were released in 2015, more than one year before the election ! You really have no clue, do you ?”

    The Primaries start in 2015 before and run well into 2016, a clear attempt to dictate the tone of the upcoming campaign, tying nicely into the article above.

  • Marcus Orr

    the democratic primaries started in 2015 ? hmm…

    It wasn’t even clear if Hilary would have any challengers when these videos were released…
    By your logic there is a full 2 year period (2015-2016) in which no-one is allowed to release any information because it “affects” the election….

  • hgreen

    Yes you expose the hypocrisy at the heart of the anti abortion movement. Many in the anti abortion movement are only interested in control and the propoagation of their own peculiar religious beliefs.

  • Kevin Stewart

    The Democratic party’s loss was because they lost the white working class, who wanted change and were presented with a very “establishment” ticket. Sanders would have won in a landslide.

  • npbinni

    You clearly know very little about evangelical Christians, hg! The Trump election and refusal by the left to accept the result has clearly shown who the real ‘haters’ are.

  • npbinni

    Rubbish. The videos were not fake, and anyone with a titter of wit knows it. If they are fake, then, by your logic, all ‘sting’ videos are fake. The horrific slaughter of around one million American babies every single year (60 million since 1973), is a national shame and the filmmakers are to be commended for exposing the dark side of the abortion industry.

  • npbinni

    Clinton’s radical support for the killing of a baby right up to the last-second before birth scared the living daylights out of many Americans. Obama was cute enough to hid his agreement with such horrific procedures. There is, of course, no guarantee that Republican appointees will remain conservative in their thinking or rulings on the SC, but they certainly are a lot better than those who you know for sure will religiously pursue the agenda of the regressive Left.

  • Brian O’Neill

    False: Ted Cruz claim that Hillary Clinton backs ‘unlimited abortion’ to moment of birth

  • Marcus Orr

    I’m wondering if you read the full report here. Yeah, she’s only for abortion right up until moment of birth “when the woman’s life is at risk” or other exceptional circumstances.

    That’s a nice little trick Hilary played, and the fact-checker swallowed it. Think about it for a moment: the situation of the woman’s life being at risk in pregnancy virtually doesn’t exist, especially not today. While he was US Surgeon General, Dr. Everett Koop stated publicly that in his thirty-eight years as a pediatric surgeon, he was never aware of a single situation in which a preborn child’s life had to be taken in order to save the life of the mother. He said the use of this argument to justify abortion in general was a “smoke screen.”

    I can think of one or two situations to be fair, e.g. the pregnant woman has cancer or some other life threatening disease unconnected with carrying the child. But that’s not what Hilary’s talking about. She’s actually for partial-birth abortion to give woman the right to kill the baby late-term if they find out there is something wrong with the child (disabled, rare illness etc.) Don’t want to have a disabled child, hey let’s kill it.

    So, don’t know if I would phrase it as Ted Cruz does but certainly npbinni’s statement “Clinton’s radical support for the killing of a baby right up to the last-second before birth
    ” is a true, not a false statement on Clinton.

  • lizmcneill
  • New Yorker

    I agree with the post and your comment. The Evangelicals have certainly proved their beliefs are for sale to an immoral huckster. Single issue voting is never a good idea. In this instance not only were the Evangelicals unethical but also very unwise. Trump will trample all over them whenever he likes. You are right when you say Evangelicals have lost all moral force and long term it will have an effect on them. Historically they are on the scene on year then disappear for years. It is time for them to disappear for a long time.

  • Marcus Orr

    How do you get that I compared women to female dogs ?

  • hgreen

    Here comes the hate.

  • npbinni

    Actually, H, with hindsight I should have addressed your patently false assertion that evangelical Christians are motivated by money and hate. On the contrary, we are motivated by the love of God and the word of God which encourages us to tell people that God loved the people of the world (White, Black, Red, Yellow, whatever…) so much that He sent His only Son to die for their sins, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Have you ever considered the love of God for you personally? As for money, the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s a well known fact that conservative giving to charity exceeds that of liberals, and evangelical Christian make up quite a large proportion of conservatives. So, H, your argument about money and hate being the motivation of evangelical Christians is very spurious, indeed.

  • noodles

    My enemy’s enemy is my friend. I sense evangelicals were driven by hate of their social adversaries.