On Monday, The New Yorker released a long profile of Vice President Mike Pence, filled with tibdits of snarky anger. But the portion of the profile most likely to make headlines flew around Twitter on the wings of eagles: President Trump’s apparently love for mocking Pence’s social conservatism. Here’s the relevant section:
A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
This led to a round of recriminations aimed from Never Trump Republicans and Leftists at evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. Now, I think that it’s absurd for religious leaders to treat President Trump as a sort of King David figure – King David repented and was beloved of God. It would be difficult to make the same sort of argument with regard to Trump. But to suggest that evangelicals should drop support for Trump based on his all-too-obvious disdain for social conservatism – a disdain that was eminently clear throughout his career, as was his late-breaking pandering on the issues – assumes that evangelicals were actually taken in by Trump, as opposed to seeing him as a useful tool for promotion of their legislative agenda. Some were, perhaps. But many more likely see Trump as a highly flawed vessel for regulatory priorities.
That logic may be wrong. I myself thought (and still think) that Trump would damage the social conservative brand and make it more difficult to win the argument, that his policy gains could be easily undone by a Democratic Congress and Democratic president but that his public relations losses would be much harder to undo. It’s still an open question as to who is right.
But Trump has acted in socially conservative fashion with regard to legislation. He has appointed a stellar slate of judges – and whether he’s delegated that selection to outside forces or done it himself is irrelevant. He broadened the so-called Mexico City policy. He freed the Defense Department to reverse Obama-era rules with regard to transgenderism in the military. He rolled back the Obamacare birth control mandate. All of this means that many evangelicals who knew full well that Trump isn’t a hard-core abortion or same-sex marriage opponent are getting what they bargained for in terms of policy. And they’re willing to absorb a few nasty barbs from Trump himself if it means saving unborn lives, for example.