Upon initial glance, Trump’s speech before CPAC 2019 (Conservative Political Action Convergence) appeared to be yet another example of adderall-fueled presidential performance art. Ever the Barnum-esque showman, the president managed to top his National Prayer Breakfast speech where he praised “abolishing civil rights” and proclaimed “All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.” We’ll have to assume that “all children” does not include those languishing in cages or living below the poverty line.
After his CPAC speech, Jerry Falwell Jr., whose Liberty University played host to CPAC 2019, retweeted Trump’s statement, “I will be signing an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research dollars.” This move seems to signify Falwell will remain loyal given Trump will allow Christian schools to ignore SCOTUS rulings such as Bob Jones University v. United States (1982), a battle that launched the Moral Majority founded by his father. This ruling denied tax exemptions to religious institutions that practiced racial discrimination, which, they claimed, was a religious freedom issue.
Despite Falwell’s suport, even pro-Trump outlets like Fox News or The Daily Caller couldn’t defend Trump’s moves during this speech like hugging the flag, calling BS on the Mueller probe, and mocking Jeff Sessions’s southern accent. SNL’s writers just let the clips roll, knowing that Trump’s truth was funnier than anything they could make up.
However, it’s important to point out that no other president prior to Trump has actually spoken at public right wing events like CPAC and The Values Voter Summit. Occasionally, a Republican administration official may make an appearance like at the 2006 Values Voter Summit when then-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow addressed the gathering. But even a president like George W. Bush, who socialized with the likes of Falwell, knew to avoid these events so as to not alienate his more moderate base.
Furthermore, Trump is the first president to actively embrace the prosperity gospel. According to a panel held on October 2017 at the Institute of Politics’ John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Harvard Kennedy School, “The prosperity gospel, a strain of Christian belief that links faith, positive thinking, and material wealth, is finding a foothold in American politics with the rise of President Trump.”
Add Trump’s nod to Christian nationalism into this mix of white evangelical politics and prosperity gospel teachings, and one has a truly godawful church casserole that no Christian should want to consume. True, a January 2019 Marist poll noted that only 66% of white evangelicals approve of Trump’s job performance. But according to an analysis by Religion News Service, this drop can be attributed to the partial government shutdown. Hence, it appears the majority of Trumpvangelicals will continue to break bread with Trump even if it impacts their pocketbooks as long as he continues to answer their political prayers. Or should we say prayer?