The Revival of the Old Religious Right

Then as now, the Religious Right did not organize only on the basis of Roe v. Wade

“Reagan paid lip service to Christian conservatives, but often declined to make their biggest national plans a priority. Will this year’s faith-based political operatives be truly welcome in Trump’s White House? If so, we may be witnessing a revival of the old Religious Right.”


The obituary has been written many times over. The old-guard Religious Right would be diminished, perhaps vanquished, over its support of Donald Trump. In its place were new evangelical leaders—the Russell Moores and the Never Trumpers—who would preach piety, and not politics. There were growing numbers of evangelicals of color who were changing the face of evangelical America. There were young people who cared less for their parents’ culture wars. There were evangelical women who spoke out loudly when Trump bragged about sexual assault. Enough is enough, they said.

But then Trump won, and overwhelming numbers of white Christians helped carry him to victory. According to Pew’s analysis of early exit polls, his support among white evangelicals (81 percent) matched or topped that of Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush, whose turnout of values voters is often touted as key to his 2004 election. White Catholics went for Trump, 60 to 37 percent. Mormons, wary of Trump in the primaries, even in the end supported him 61 to 25 percent. On Wednesday, in both shock and awe, Religious Right leaders found themselves on the winning side.

“Weeping is for a season but joy comes in the morning,” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins told reporters on Wednesday morning, quoting the Bible. “For many conservatives, joy awaited them this morning when they saw that Hillary Clinton was not going to be president.” At the National Press Club in Washington, Perkins, along with some of Trump’s faith-based political operatives, walked victory laps. Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List said, “The pro-life movement is in the strongest position that it has been in over 40 years—since Roe v. Wade. This election has delivered a very powerful punch.” The Christian conservative activists were emboldened, citing their base’s high turnout, and their ability to secure a pro-life Supreme Court justice, defund Planned Parenthood, protect religious freedom, and redirect national security. “There were an awful lot of premature obituaries written of the religious, conservative, and pro-family movement in this campaign,” the longtime Religious Right operative Ralph Reed told the room. “We can now say this morning, as Mark Twain did, that the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.”

They are already earning seats at the table. Trump’s transition team and the longlist for his cabinet read like a who’s who of the Religious Right of yore. Former Governor Mike Huckabee, once a values voters’ evangelical pick, and Governor Sam Brownback, a socially conservative Catholic, are being considered for agency posts, according to Buzzfeed. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at Perkins’ Family Research Council and a longtime public servant known for anti-LGBTQ stances, is overseeing domestic policy for the transition team, according to Politico. On the lists are other politicians who have boosted Religious Right causes, including Senator Jeff Sessions, Reagan aide and former Attorney General Ed Meese, and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach. Then there is Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who has a long track record of socially conservative policies—from voting against LGBTQ rights to enacting one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. It’s difficult to know what policies Trump will enact; he has no governing history. But these men have long histories in government, and like the second coming of the Christian Coalition, they could portend a robust future for Religious Right policies.

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