Political observers had expected Donald Trump, after sewing up the Republican party nomination, to ‘pivot’ towards the center in an attempt to attract voters who might be feeling doubtful abut voting for the Democratic candidate. Trump indeed pivoted but in the opposite direction, away from the center.
It seems like he is still unsure of his support among conservatives and evangelicals and has begun courting them even more in earnest. One attempt was his providing last month of a list of the people whom he would choose as potential Supreme Court justices in the event that he becomes president. This list seems to have been specifically designed to appease the extreme right wing.
The list includes several judges often found on conservative wish lists, including Diane Sykes, William Pryor and Joan Larsen. Several of the judges were appointed by President George W. Bush, and many serve on state supreme courts.
The issue took on added urgency after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, who had been a fixture of the court’s conservative wing.
Seeking to counter those attacks, Trump in March promised he would release a list of potential Supreme Court nominees. He consulted with the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, to come up with the names.
Then just yesterday, Trump had a closed door meeting with a slew of Christian evangelical leaders and seemingly wowed them with some blatant pandering.
Donald Trump won a standing ovation from hundreds of Christian conservatives who came to New York City on Tuesday with a somewhat skeptical but willing attitude toward a man who has divided their group with comments on women, immigrants and Islam. In his comments, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said he would end the decades-old ban on tax-exempt groups’ — including churches — politicking, called religious liberty “the No. 1 question,” and promised to appoint antiabortion Supreme Court justices.
Throughout the talk Trump emphasized that America was hurting due to what he described as Christianity’s slide to become “weaker, weaker, weaker.” He said he’d get department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” and would fight restrictions on public employees, such as public school coaches, from being allowed to lead sectarian prayer on the field.
The audience included leaders and founders of many segments of the Christian Right, the evangelical movement that began in the 1970s under people including the late Jerry Falwell. Among those present and involved in the program Tuesday were Focus on the Family founder James Dobson (who is no longer with that group), former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and evangelist Franklin Graham (son of evangelical icon Billy Graham).
He then named an ‘evangelical executive advisory board’ that includes many of the usual suspects and even the wacky Michele Bachmann.
Former Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann leads an alphabetical list of names announced by Donald Trump’s campaign on Tuesday as the presumptive Republican nominee’s evangelical executive advisory board.
Along with Bachmann, the campaign announced the additions radio host and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, among more than two dozen names.
I must admit that I am puzzled by Trump’s strategy. I had thought that Trump’s calculation would have been that, apart from the neoconservatives, the conservatives and evangelicals had nowhere to go other than support him since the anti-Hillary Clinton sentiment has been whipped up so strongly among them. His goal would have been to attract those who thought of him as being less religious, less conservative, less militaristic, and more even-handed on the Israel-Palestine issue than the Republican party in general and thus be willing to risk voting for him over Clinton, despite his incoherent policies and unpredictability.
But the above moves plus his recent calls for more airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and his endorsement by the extreme right-wing and rabidly anti-Palestinian Sheldon Adelson would seem to erase that possible edge. He seems to becoming more and more your standard-issue Republican nominee with the added baggage of being blatantly misogynistic and xenophobic.
No doubt all this makes some kind of sense in his own mind. And there are those who see him as some sort of strategic and tactical genius, rather than as someone who just has a highly developed skill at self-promotion combined with a populist instinct that is attuned to picking up on people’s resentments. Let’s see how well these moves work out for him.