Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Credit: Sheelah Craighead/Wikimedia Commons

NPR has a truly bizarre story today that I find hard to understand. The basic idea seems to be that a lot of conservative Christian leaders are genuinely concerned about the news that Donald Trump isn’t a faithful husband. And, as a result, they seem to have finagled a meeting with the president in which they hope to confront him about his immoral behavior. If you use some common sense and read a little closer, you’ll realize that this doesn’t make a lot of sense.

While some of the more sordid details of Trump’s extramarital trysts and affairs have come to light since the election, the fact that he’s a legendary philanderer who has been plausibly accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women was evident to everyone by election day in 2016. Christian conservatives could not have cared any less if they tried. Does it really change things that we now know that Trump slept with Playboy bunnies and porn actresses and then paid for their silence? I simply don’t believe that the details have changed anything on the moral plane, but I guess theoretically they could depress turnout. That’s what these evangelicals seem to think, anyway:

The meeting is part of an effort to rally and reassure conservative voters, especially white evangelicals who fueled Trump’s run to the White House, ahead of this year’s midterms…

…The June meeting will be a chance for evangelical leaders to seek reassurance from Trump, and to talk about how to mobilize conservatives around other issues this fall, a source said.

“Let’s reconvene,” the source said, “and let’s see what we can do to encourage enthusiasm — beyond Trump, so to speak.”

You’ll notice that the meeting is not scheduled until June, so there’s not a huge sense of urgency. You’ll also notice that it’s not all about confronting Trump. It looks more like a simply political strategizing exercise.

“It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear,” like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights, the source noted. The source, like the others with knowledge of the event, spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity so as to not jeopardize the meeting.

If the parts I’ve cited were the main focus of the piece, it would make sense to me. Conservative Christians are freaking out that they might lose power in Congress and they want to give some advice to Trump so they can coordinate their defense. It’s not about Trump’s morality at all. But that’s not what we’re supposed to take away from the article.

As allegations continue to swirl about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter, evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June, four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting tell NPR.

“We’re very concerned” about the allegations, said a leader of a faith-based ministry…

…Trump has been invited to take questions from the evangelical leaders for roughly 90 minutes during the meeting. It’s not clear whether the allegations from Daniels — or another woman who alleges she had an affair with Trump, former Playboy model Karen McDougal — are likely to come up while the president is on stage in a more open session.

But a source said the president is likely to be asked about the women during private discussions in at least a “sidebar conversation.”

The ministry leader said Trump’s tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals.

“There’s things that are like fingernails on the chalkboard to people of faith. That’s not who we are; that’s not a ‘fruit of the Spirit’; that’s not leading with humility,” the source said, referencing a passage in the New Testament book of Galatians that describes the character traits Christians exhibit.

Near the end of the article, we finally get someone close to the administration to go on the record, and what he says completely negates the premise that evangelicals want to confront the president.

Johnnie Moore, an informal evangelical adviser to Trump, downplayed the discussions, calling them “entirely conceptual” at this stage.

Moore described himself as an “observer” rather than an organizer but did say conversations are underway about a potential gathering of hundreds of evangelicals in Washington, D.C., in the coming months.

“There is a very active discussion about the desire of evangelical leaders to get together again, principally to discuss policy issues going into 2018. And it has nothing to do with any questions about the past life of our president.”

I am going to just chalk this up to a very bad take on what appears to be a plan to have a huge summer convention of evangelical leaders in Washington, D.C. where the president is tentatively scheduled to appear and answer questions, some of which will be open to the public. They will try to rally their flocks to vote for congressional Republicans, which is no surprise, and that’s pretty much the totality of the story.

Since Trump is a generally bad role model for Christians seeking to avoid hypocrisy and a life of sin, they may try to write him out of the script:

In addition to meeting with Trump, participants also plan to spend several hours discussing priorities and strategy for the midterms, which could include inserting reminders in church bulletins to head to the polls on Election Day.

Another source with knowledge of the plans for the event tells NPR that the gathering will encourage pastors and other leaders to frame voting as a Christian’s “civic duty,” rather than urging churchgoers to support a particular political party.

They know if their parishioners go to the polls, they’ll vote for the Republicans, so if they can’t make any better arguments they’ll just say that Christians have a moral obligation to participate in the political process.

But they know what motivated their people to vote for Trump and it wasn’t a sense of civic duty. It was Trump’s promise to fight to keep America as white as possible and his willingness to insult people that they wanted to see insulted. So, in June, when these “leaders” are spending “several hours discussing priorities and strategy for the midterms,” I’m pretty sure we’ll see a much more cynical take about how to preserve their power. It won’t be about the “fruit of the Spirit,” but it will be about Sharia Law and sinister Honduran caravans of rapists.

So it goes.

The meeting will be held at Trump’s D.C. hotel because these evangelicals do not care about conflicts of interest, the appearance of impropriety or even a minimal standard of ethics. Such considerations never even enter their heads.

…it also could raise questions about the ethics of holding such events, organized through the White House, at Trump’s hotel just a few blocks from the White House.

That prospect did not seem to concern the evangelical leaders involved with booking the event.

“That doesn’t even cross our mind,” said one person with knowledge of the planning, adding that the hotel was chosen because “this is probably the best deal in D.C.”

So that goes, as well.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at