Talking Points

Black Monday for the religious right

The (eventual) resignation of former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. was not the only blow sustained by the sagging structure of the religious right in the 24 hours from Sunday evening through Monday night. The other was the movement's total omission from President Trump's second term priorities.

Right around the time Falwell gave a lurid tale of infidelity and blackmail to The Washington Examiner in an apparent attempt to set the narrative before an even more sordid Reuters report was published, the Trump campaign released its 50-point list of agenda items. As conservative commentators quickly noticed, there were some key exclusions.

Like abortion. And religious liberty. And the Supreme Court. And the Constitution itself. Words that don't appear in Trump's list include "faith," "prayer," "limited," "judges" or "judiciary," "life," "liberty," "freedom" — in short, everything that was supposed to justify evangelical support for Trump has been dumped.

The Dispatch calls this "a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of the Republican Party in the last four years." The American Conservative's Rod Dreher more bluntly charges that the GOP only "exists now as a personality cult" for a personality who just made clear his utter apathy about abortion and religious liberty. I'd call it Black Monday for the religious right, a day that won't dissolve what remains of the movement from its late-1990s peak but may well be remembered for its symbolism in years to come.

Trump's list is a betrayal of the transactional political relationship — exemplified by court evangelicals like Falwell — which traded conservative Christian votes for presidential protection. Falwell's disgrace, meanwhile, is a betrayal from inside the house.

Though emphatic he shouldn't be seen as a spiritual leader, Falwell was the literal heir of the Moral Majority and head of a large, vocally Christian institution that takes as its purpose the training of "champions for Christ." His public identity is inextricably entwined with his father's movement, on which he capitalized while publicly refusing its spiritual responsibility (and, it seems, privately rejecting its moral standards).

It's thus fitting, perhaps, that Falwell's downfall came in the same 24 hours in which Trump let slip that he's the winner of this transaction, that whatever he says about giving conservative Christians "power," the only power he cares about is his own.