On Saturday, a longterm Republican and evangelical who served under Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush took to The New York Times to publicly denounce President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as “liberal caricatures” of Christian Republicans. He said he could no longer identify as an evangelical Republican due to their influence.
“I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness,” Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), wrote in the Times.
Wehner argued that “the events of the past few years — and the past few weeks — have shown us that the Republican Party and the evangelical movement (or large parts of them, at least), have become what I would once have thought of as liberal caricatures.”
He fleshed out this claim further: “Assume you were a person of the left and an atheist, and you decided to create a couple of people in a laboratory to discredit the Republican Party and white evangelical Christianity. You could hardly choose two more perfect men than Donald Trump and Roy Moore.”
Wehner is no boilerplate anti-Trump liberal Republican. He served in the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations, and worked as deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush. He served as a senior adviser to the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign, and Forbes magazine featured him on a short list of conservatism’s leading “educators and practitioners of first principles” in 2011.
Wehner wrote City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael J. Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur C. Brooks). In the article, he recalled embracing “conservatism as a political philosophy and the Republican Party as its political home” as a young man, voting for Reagan in 1980.
“Both the Republican Party, which was created to end slavery and preserve the Union, and evangelicalism, a transdenominational effort to faithfully represent Christ in word and deed, shaped my life and outlook, helping me to interpret the world,” he wrote.
This article represents a line in the sand — a prominent evangelical Republican publicly distancing himself from both evangelicalism and the GOP on the grounds that they have lost their souls.
Wehner wrote that “the support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite.”
He argued that Trump and Moore represent a crippling threat to evangelicalism and the Republican Party. He opposed them not because he wants to stop the GOP or weaken Christianity, but because Trump and Moore are caricatures of both groups — as if an atheist liberal cooked them up in a lab.
Wehner unleashed many attacks against these two Republicans.
Both have been credibly accused of being sexual predators, sometimes admitting to bizarre behavior in their own words. Both have spun wild conspiracy theories, including the lie that Barack Obama was not born in America. Both have slandered the United States and lavished praise on Vladimir Putin, with Mr. Moore declaring that America today could be considered “the focus of evil in the modern world” and stating, in response to Mr. Putin’s anti-gay measures in Russia: “Well, maybe Putin is right. Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.” Both have been involved with shady business dealings. Both have intentionally divided America along racial and religious lines. Both relish appealing to people’s worst instincts. Both create bitterness and acrimony in a nation desperately in need of grace and a healing touch.
Then he attacked the evangelicals and conservatives around President Trump, perhaps a subtle dig at Vice President Mike Pence.
“I hoped the Trump era would be seen as an aberration and made less ugly by those who might have influence over the president,” Wehner wrote. “That hasn’t happened. Rather than Republicans and people of faith checking his most unappealing sides, the president is dragging down virtually everyone within his orbit.”
The EPPC senior adviser characterized “prominent evangelical leaders” as “courtiers” of President Trump. “What’s happening with Mr. Moore in Alabama — with the president, the Republican National Committee, the state party and many white evangelicals rallying around him — is a bridge too far for many of us.”
Pointedly, Wehner asked, “at what point do you pull back from associating yourself with a political party and a religious term you once took pride in but that are now doing harm to the things you treasure?” His answer? “Enough already.”
The EPPC senior fellow made some valid points. Trump seems unrepentant before God, and that severely undercuts his public claim to be a Christian and to represent Christians in the White House. Moore has gone over the deep end on many statements, especially in refusing to support the Constitution and in suggesting that America could be the “focus of evil in the modern world.”
Supporters of Trump and Moore may claim that the mainstream media, out of special hatred for these politicians, has twisted their words to undermine them. It is perfectly possible that Trump and Moore have done horrible things, despite the fact that the media often twists the truth against them.
Wehner made important points, and many conservative Christians refused to back Trump during last year’s election for similar reasons. Both evangelicals and Republicans should listen to this warning about Trump and Moore, rather than dismissing Wehner’s words.
If conservative Christians are to defend Moore and Trump, they need to acknowledge the fact that both men do indeed seem like caricatures cooked up by a liberal atheist to discredit conservatism and Christianity.
The rush to tribalism is in full force in 2017, but the Right needs to have room for people like Wehner when they attempt to hold evangelicals and Republicans to their consciences. If indeed conservative Christians are to change the world for the better, they cannot sacrifice their integrity.
As Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.”