At The New York Times, Frank Bruni was scratching his head, Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers? He wants to know how it is that such an un-Christian man as Donald Trump can be doing so well with evangelical voters. After all, “He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-‘losers’ rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.” By Christian dogma, you really only need one of the deadly sins and Trump gets at least six. (I’m not as inclined as Bruni to give him a pass on sloth.)
Bruni isn’t just talking about Trump. He also discussed Ted Cruz who spoke publicly about the “misery, stagnation, and malaise” of the Carter presidency the day Carter’s health problems were made public. Before discussing this, remember that what Cruz said is factually wrong. The economy did better under Carter than it did under Reagan’s first term. But thinking that everything was terrible under Carter is just something that all Republicans “know.” Regardless, Bruni contrasted Cruz’s and Trump’s public un-Christian behavior with Carter’s humble Christianity, “His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.”
But is it the case that evangelicals support Trump (and to a lesser extent Cruz and Huckabee) because he makes a big public deal about his supposed faith? Certainly Paul Krugman doesn’t think so. He wrote a great, short blog post, The Reactionary Soul. He noted, “Conservative religiosity… [was] never about living a godly life.” He also talks about the conservatives who believe in the “free market” supporting a mercantilist like Trump. Conservatives don’t support these things that they claim to. Krugman quoted Corey Robin:
Although this is certainly true, what really defines conservatives is their authoritarianism. And Krugman even gets at this. “Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.” Conservatives like Trump and their other heroes because they are “strong.” I talk a lot about the Republican Party being proto-fascist. But the truth is that the Republican voters are full out fascists. They are looking for exactly what the German, Italian, and Spanish fascists offered.
Let us not forget the love affair that conservative had with Vladimir Putin. Last year, Ishaan Tharoor posted a number of comments from conservatives as to why they liked Putin and it is illuminating. This was following the Syrian crisis. It’s all the same: Putin is “strong” and a “leader.” And what that mean is that Putin is an authoritarian. It reminds me of an episode of This American Life, Swing Set. It was during the 2004 election, and Ira Glass had a series of conversations with a conservative doctor James Hackett. Hackett hated everything that Bush had done. But he kept coming back to the same idea: he hated what Bush did, but at least Bush did what he thought was right. (This is a ridiculous contention — Bush was one of the most fake politicians ever — but let’s go with it.) So it was worse to vote for a politician who panders to the wishes of the people than to vote for a man who went against them. So “strength” is more important than being right — or even democracy itself.
Trump is the ultimate conservative politician. It doesn’t matter what his policies are. It doesn’t matter what his character is. Whether the conservative is a Christian evangelical or a libertarian “free” marketeer, Trump is what really matters to these voters: he’s an authoritarian leader. The conservative base is made up of authoritarian followers. And there are enough of them to elect just about anyone under the right conditions. And if that makes you think of Germany in the early 1930s, it should. It’s terrifying.
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the reason that the Republican establishment is against Trump is not because of his policies. And it certainly isn’t because he’s an authoritarian. It is because they think he can’t win the general election. So don’t be fooled by the fact that Charles Krauthammer is against Trump. It’s purely tactical.