The Iowa caucuses are right around the corner and even Donald Trump has deigned to appear in the state recently despite his obvious belief that it’s beneath him to have to compete for the nomination he, and everyone else, knows is already his. But he does enjoy his rallies. So he’s clearly decided that it’s time to gather the flock just to make sure they all know what’s expected of them.
Here’s a sample of what he’s talking about on the campaign trail these days:
Hannah Knowles of the Washington Post reported from this weekend’s rally:
Children wandered around in shirts and hats with the letters “FJB,” an abbreviation for an obscene jab at President Biden that other merchandise spelled out: “F—- Biden.” During his speech inside a high school gym in Fort Dodge, former president Trump called one GOP rival a “son of a b——,” referred to another as “birdbrain” and had the crowd shrieking with laughter at his comments on Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who he called “pencil neck” before asking, “How does he hold up that fat, ugly face?”
He brought the house down while mocking Biden, at one point baselessly suggesting Biden is using drugs and can’t get offstage “by the time whatever it is he’s taken wears off.” … And outside the packed venue, vulgar slogans about Biden and Vice President Harris were splashed across T-shirts: “Biden Loves Minors.” “Joe and the Ho Gotta Go!” One referred to Biden and Harris performing sexual acts.
Yes, they’re all just letting their freak flags fly, no holds barred. Not that this is entirely new. Republican gatherings like CPAC going back decades used to feature racist and misogynist merchandise, and there were many speakers who made crude comments about their Democratic rivals. But it is unprecedented for the candidate himself to wallow around in the gutter with them.
He’s also been posting more Nazi-esque statements on his social media platform. This weekend he seemed to be proposing a “final solution” for his enemies:
Meanwhile, in another town in Iowa, Trump skipped out on what would have been required attendance in Iowa GOP presidential primaries in the past: A meeting with Christians to talk about the issues that are important to them. This one was called the Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum. Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy were there to go through the motions and pretend that they might have a chance to win. (A recent Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa poll found 43% of likely Republican voters choose Trump compared with 16% each for Haley and DeSantis.) The forum convener, Bob Vander Plaats, was once considered an Iowa kingmaker but he’s broken with Trump and it doesn’t appear that he has the juice to bring anyone else over the line. He opened the forum by beseeching the candidates to “raise the bar” — and by comparison to Trump, they managed to do that.
Mostly, they talked about their faith and abortion with both Ramaswamy and DeSantis discussing their wives’ miscarriages and Nikki Haley making news by saying that she would happily sign a 6-week abortion ban. (She issued her standard disclaimer that she doesn’t think that’s possible on a federal basis right now, as if that somehow qualifies as a moderate position.) It was all pretty standard Republican evangelical pandering.
But it’s quite clear from the polling that most conservative evangelical Christians like the libertine, gutter-snipe Donald Trump even more than the rest of the Republican Party. They are the strongest pillar of his following. So attempting to pry them loose with appeals to decency is a waste of breath. There have been billions of pixels spent trying to figure out why they like him, and I suppose there are many reasons. But recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute found that one-third of white evangelicals favor political violence so Trump’s insurrection obviously holds major appeal to a lot of them. And no doubt they love his commentary about barring people who “don’t like our religion” from entering the country:
“I will implement strong ideological screening of all immigrants. If you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel, if you don’t like our religion (which a lot of them don’t), if you sympathize with jihadists, then we don’t want you in our country and you are not getting in.”
And, as we know, Trump has lately taken to vowing to demolish, expel, drive out, cast out, and evict all the people they don’t like from America as well. Apparently, it’s all music to their ears.
Trump’s recently been getting some big endorsements from important office holders and there’s one in particular who represents conservative evangelicals in an extremely powerful position. That would be the new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, whose affiliation with the most extreme forms of Christian Nationalism is only now coming into focus. According to NPR, Johnson is a leading member of the far-right New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement, which seeks to dissolve the separation between church and state by “any means necessary.” Johnson has spent his entire career as a lawyer and an elected official in service of that goal.
Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, took a look at his litigation history to see what it says about how he applies these beliefs to the constitution and you won’t be surprised to learn that his legal principles are entirely inconsistent. In fact, the only thing consistent about his position is the idea that America is meant to be a Christian theocracy.
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For Christians like Johnson, Trump is just a blunt instrument to be used to advance his cause which he believes must be attained by any means necessary. Whatever else he represents is of no consequence.
It’s actually a little different for the MAGA rank and file. The Post’s Knowles spoke with some of them at Trump’s Iowa rally:
“Joe’s gotta go,” said Lori Carpenter, 59, as she left the Fort Dodge event.“And the ho shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” The “ho” was Harris, she clarified, before offering another nickname for Harris that was even more vulgar. “It doesn’t bother me,” she said of Trump’s insults and crudeness.
Her relative, 71-year-old Marsha Crouthamel, agreed. “It doesn’t bother me either because his policies are strong,” she echoed, adding that Trump got a lot of laughs and added, “Sometimes you just gotta excite people a little bit.”
“We’re Christians, and we can look past that,” Carpenter said. “We see the good that he did our country when he was in.”
To these Trump-loving evangelicals, being a Christian means never having to say you’re sorry. And that’s one thing they definitely have in common with their Dear Leader Donald Trump.