This year, perhaps more than any other year, conservative Christians who normally vote in presidential elections are looking at two choices that are an utterly depressing indictment of the spiritual condition of our nation. Most of us do not even consider Hillary Clinton a viable option. Her fervor for expanded abortion rights and liberal ideology that would erode religious liberties for Christians make it nearly impossible for us to look her way. That being said, that doesn't mean our support should therefore flow to Donald Trump.
Perhaps it's time for Christians in America to transcend politics in 2016 and choose Christ over country. Conflating Christianity with American nationalism is an error and should be guarded against. Patriotism and politics can indeed become an idol. Often times we may think our national prosperity and earthly comfort is the ultimate will of God. However, as the Apostle Paul and many other martyrs will tell you, that isn't necessarily true. We are not promised temporal liberty and freedom as Christians. In fact, quite the opposite. We are guaranteed persecution.
This doesn't mean that we should set ourselves up for persecution, but it does mean that we should never compromise our foundational Christian principles to avoid it! This seems to be the main argument from evangelicals for voting for Trump: Under Clinton, the Church would face political persecution and abortions would be unrestricted. At least Trump promises Supreme Court justices who would safeguard both the child in the womb and our religious freedoms. In essence, the enemy of our enemy is our friend.
With that in mind, I don't think that's a good enough reason for us to hitch the Christian cart to the Trump horse. I'll start with the assumption that Christian leaders really have the best interest of the Church in mind and are not just looking for political influence and fame. Also, I don't think evangelicals always need to abstain from voting if neither choice is a Christian. But Trump makes a mockery of the Christian faith by using the Church for his political gain. He claims to be a Christian, yet he can't recite one Bible and recently said he has never asked for God's forgiveness. This doesn't add up because we know Trump, as do we all, has many sins for which he needs to be forgiven. He is now on his third marriage, he has partaken in many unscrupulous business practices, he has bragged about his promiscuity, he owned a casino with a strip club in it, etc.
How does Trump's false claim of Christ and the Church's endorsement of him glorify God? By saving our skins from some earthly political persecution? How do we retain credibility with unbelievers? We are so afraid of losing our freedoms, our God is so weak that we had to ally ourselves with a man who refers to women as fat pigs and slobs, tears down any who disagree with him and makes a mockery of the faith?
Some say the ends justify the means in this case. The Church will be able to carry on its preaching of the Gospel by protecting our religious liberty, that the church's future is brighter in a free country. That goes against everything the Bible teaches us. The early Church exploded under Roman persecution, the Church today in China is currently exploding under persecution, Christ has built His Church under horrific persecution. If anything, persecution is ultimately good for the Church, it separates the wheat from the chaff. It would cause true believers to really forsake the things of this world, this foreign land that we live in, and look to Christ in all things.
So, no, I do not believe that Christians ought to endorse Donald Trump. It does violence to the Gospel and the credibility of the Church. We should not support or accept him as our deliverer. It should prick the Christian conscience. As Luther said, "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen."
This election cycle, there are three groups of Republicans. The first are the people who enthusiastically supported Trump from the beginning. Then there are the people who did not support Trump in the primary, but will support him now that he's the GOP nominee using the eroding justification that Clinton is worse. Lastly, there are those who have decided that Trump just asks too much of them. They believe Trump is a disaster for the GOP and is actually dangerous for the country, even at the risk of a liberal Supreme Court. They are Never Trump.
Most people can probably see by now that Trump is going to lose in a bad way come November. There's little use arguing it, he is incapable of going more than a few days without saying something totally ridiculous. FiveThirtyEight puts Trump's chances below 15%, with states like Georgia and Arizona (possibly even South Carolina) now in play for Clinton. For this, we can lay the blame squarely on his primary supporters. We hope that the hard lesson they are about to learn resonates so as not to be repeated. It's a loss that we Republicans need to be prepared to absorb. The Republicans have been diagnosed with terminal political cancer for 2016.
That being obvious, what's curious is the second group of Republicans with people such as Gov. Nikki Haley, who spends a lot of time disavowing the crazy things Trump says but quietly mutters that she is supporting him none the less. On Monday, Gov. Haley took some time to slap Trump for his sociopathic feud with a Gold Star family. She went on to say, "At the end of the day, I will continue to say that Trump is the better candidate of the two."
At what point, Gov. Haley, will Trump NOT be the better candidate of the two? Is there anything that Trump could do or say to make her, or any other Trump lukewarm-endorsers, withdraw their support? Given what Trump has already said throughout the course of his dumpster fire campaign, I think not.
The damage of a Trump nomination has been done, but now we need to contain it and prepare for post-November without Trump. Remember when I said that Republicans had been diagnosed with terminal political cancer for 2016? Well, continuing to offer support for Trump is like knowing you're going to die and then mocking God until you go! It's totally counterintuitive. If you already know you're going to die (politically in 2016), then you may want to prepare for what happens next.
What's next is the "rebrand." It was supposed to take place in 2012 after Romney lost, however this time around we need to be more resolute if we are going to have any future as a party. But I find it hard to fathom how rising stars such as Haley, Scott, Rubio and Ryan are going to be able to play a legitimate roll in that if they stand with Trump until the bitter end. Sticking with the political death analogy, you can have a conversion all the way up to death, but not after. After death is too late and so too is after Election Day. While the first group of Republicans is definitely responsible for our demise in 2016, the second group may be responsible for the GOP's eternal political death beyond.
But beyond that, Republicans ought to disavow Trump because of the Supreme Court! Yes, it was once the only cogent argument to support Trump. But with his chances evaporating, the ONLY check against a far-left Clinton Supreme Court will be if Republicans can hold on to the Senate. The latest polls show that Sen. Rubio's lead against his Democratic challenger has all but evaporated after Trump's political week from hell. Likewise, Sen. Toomey from Pennsylvania is also being pulled down by Trump. To defend against unacceptable Supreme Court nominees, Senators need to jettison Trump.
One politician in particular has had the gall to do the right thing: Sen. Lindsey Graham. Not only has he shown immense courage this election cycle, he has a history of lifting the heavy loads for the good of the party (even if the base doesn't realize it). Graham stuck his neck out to lead on the Gang of 8 bill that earned him a primary challenge for his Senate seat. Why? Because he knew it would be good for the party to lead on immigration reform, it's necessary to our electoral future. Unlike Kasich, Graham dropped out of the presidential race early because he knew it would be good for the Stop Trump effort. Graham even endorsed Ted Cruz, whom he personally loathes, because he knew that Cruz would at least give us a fighting chance. And now he stands nearly alone, asking his fellow politicians to stand with him in being Never Trump for the good of the party and the country. Will they convert?
Probably not. Sen. Graham, you were too good for our party - we weren't ready.
Last night was supposed to be a great night for Donald Trump. You had Scott Walker and Marco Rubio voicing their support, attempting to unify the party around the nominee. Later, they would have Ted Cruz speak, putting some salve on still fresh political wounds from the brutal primary, although no one expected an enthusiastic endorsement. After that, the popular Newt Gingrich would fire up the crowd by emphatically extolling his friend, Trump. The night would be capped by Paul Ryan introducing Mike Pence and Gov. Pence introducing himself to the nation. They had just effectively cleaned up the Melania Trump speech mess, and they could now launch the Trump/Pence campaign from a foundation of party unity. Or so they hoped.
When Ted Cruz got on the stage to speak, the party was on egg shells, hoping for an endorsement, but perhaps willing to settle for something a bit less if it struck the right tone. What they didn't expect, was that the Texas Senator would drop a bomb that night, using his prime time speaking slot to tell voters to “vote their conscience” and to not stay home but to vote up and down the ballot for constitutionalist conservatives. These words may seem innocuous, but they are obvious dog whistles to the “Never-Trump” faction of the GOP. He confirmed the message this morning at an event where he told people that he wasn't in the habit of endorsing people who offended his wife and father.
This “principled stand” is very curious coming from a man who was The Donald’s cheerleader in chief during the early days of the campaign. Indeed, Sen. Cruz even had a co-rally with Trump at one point last year. He regularly said that he liked Trump and considered him a friend while pivoting to attack one of the other actual conservatives he was competing against. Interestingly, Cruz found his “principles” right before the Iowa caucuses and decided to sink his dagger into Trump’s back, going on a tear against his one time friend. Later, we would find out that there was truly nothing he wouldn't do to win when we found out he had betrayed perhaps the most beloved candidate in the race, Dr. Ben Carson. Gone was TrusTed and born was Lyin’ Ted.
Cruz lived up to that moniker last night. At one of the primary debates, the moderator asked him if he would STILL uphold his pledge to support Donald Trump. Cruz answered in the affirmative. He said that he would because he gave his word. As you can imagine, stock in Cruz's word isn't doing so well right now. Once again he made a political calculation under the guise of being principled. He calculated that by ostentatiously denying Trump an endorsement on national television, he would be seen as the principled warrior once again. This strategy was undermined by his past high praise for Trump and the violation of his pledge – it totally backfired. He was jeered off stage, and he was excoriated by the Fox News panel directly afterward for his hypocrisy.
So now we’re at the last day of the Republican Convention and Team Trump desperately needs to come out of tonight driving the narrative. On day one it was the Never-Trump floor “fight.” On day two it was Melania’s plagiarized speech and the botched damage control. Day three was Cruz's betrayal, taking the wind out of Gov. Pence’s sails. Today needs to be a win for Trump.
So what can he do? First, we've had three days of pure red meat with the speeches. While it is a Republican Convention, it's also free prime time attention that every news network is covering. It would be a totally wasted opportunity to do nothing but cheaply appeal to the base. We know that Trump needs to expand the tent if he's going to have a prayer of winning and he should start that process in earnest tonight. Trump ought to be optimistic and inspirational, not angry and boorish. He should appear presidential and make his case to the American people at large, not just his Republican base. Maybe he should comment on black community-police relations beyond just saying “blue lives matter.” Maybe he should go into some detail on his plan to take down ISIS. Maybe he should include a pitch for his tax plan. Maybe he should make the case to Latino voters, beyond just saying “I love the Hispanics.” Maybe he should do all these things, but one thing is for sure, he can't waste this opportunity. However if he does, at least the convention served to hopefully end Cruz's prospects for 2020. Maybe even sooner. Word is he may face a primary challenger now for his Senate seat after his Judas moment.