There’s not really much to say about these new poll results other than white American evangelicalism is, at this point, basically a cult. Those who are outside the tribe are Bad, those who are inside the tribe are Good, and all further morality can be sorted down into that singular question.
White evangelicals lost their minds over President Bill Clinton’s affair. After Donald Trump was caught on microphone bragging at length about sexual assault, after multiple women came forward to confirm he had sexually assaulted them, and after Trump and the National Enquirer were caught paying hush money to hide two separate Trump affairs, white evangelicals suddenly lost their interest in their declarations that a political leader’s personal failures made them unfit to serve, and told pollsters so in droves.
So, did Trump’s many, many, many, many amoral grotesqueries convince them that they had been wrong all along? Nope. The pollers changed the basic question of whether private immoral behavior means a politician cannot be ethical in public life either, priming evangelicals with either Clinton or Trump’s name mentioned as an example. The answer turns out to be Clinton bad, Trump good, no further contemplation needed.
White evangelicals had a substantially different reaction when asked about Trump or Clinton. When primed to think about Trump, only 6 percent of them say that an elected official who acts immorally in private is incapable of being ethical in public life. But when Bill Clinton is mentioned, that rises to 27 percent — a 21-point increase.
The same discrepancy wasn’t seen in Catholics, or in secular respondents. It was, though, heavily correlated with party preference. And lo, as Jesus said, Republicans can do as much sin as they want and it’s fine so long as they keep the immigrants out.
This is the point where we’re all supposed to be polite and aloof about this while white evangelical Republicans, aka The Problem, express their strenuous, indignant objections to painting an entire religious sect as a scam-minded cult, even as evangelical leaders go to great lengths to paint every other world religion as illegitimate. Yes, it is very mean and we should probably not do that.
Or so we would say, if this sort of fetishized, giddily cynical faux-morality was not the hallmark of seemingly every last white evangelical megastar of the movement, from Franklin Graham to the dozen or so “prosperity gospel” crooks orbiting Trump’s citrus-colored head at any given moment. This isn’t a case of a white evangelical base stubbornly refusing to adhere to the moral admonishments of leadership; the damn leadership preaches this crooked, tribal version of morality in which allies are granted dispensation from all sins while the assembled crowd wails that their perceived opponents will be burning in hellfire for their choice of holiday cards. And that does not need to be recognized as a true faith, because grifting is not holiness, no matter how many dollars the victims fork over.
More vitally, white evangelicalism is becoming inextricably tied to hard-right conservatism, to the racism, xenophobia, rampant lying, willful cruelty and dismissive corruption of the Trump-era Republican Party. This, too, is thanks to the likes of grifter Graham, who has steadily redefined the movement to stand for whatever Donald Trump last burped out. The religious right finally found its golden calf, and it’s a man who makes a mockery out of every prayer they’ve ever prayed.