#NeverTrump

Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

When journalists have sifted through the tea leaves and the ashes left by campaign 2018, they'll doubtless be watching a singular Nebraskan, Sen. Ben Sasse, 46. He'll be the intellectual leader of Donald Trump-wary conservatives in Congress who embrace the Republicans' 1856-2015 heritage. Sasse will be up for re-election in 2020 (unless he retires).

Though a Republican or independent presidential run seems most unlikely, Sasse bids for a voice on the nation's future with his October book "Them," subtitled "Why We Hate Each Other -- and How to Heal" St. Martin's Press). Showing off his chops as a Yale Ph.D. in American history (his dissertation treated President Ronald Reagan and the "religious right"), Sasse analyzes massive disruptions in the economy and the culture that he says will continue to erode Americans' confidence and sense of shared purpose.

As a remedy, he proposes reviving old-fashioned local communities. He also wants Americans to shun destructive media and decries the partisan furies that characterize the Trump era, though the book barely mentions the president or their disagreements. He appeals for vigorous public policy debates that respect the dignity of opponents as fellow citizens. The book’s handling of religious liberty disputes is especially important.

Future media write-ups should emphasize that Sasse is also the most interesting evangelical Protestant in Congress. He previewed “Them” in a 2017 commencement address when The Guy’s daughter graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (for the good stuff, skip ahead to 9:40). Sasse also spoke that year to the Gospel Coalition and in 2016 at Westminster Seminary — California. And here’s what Sasse said on the Senate floor about #MeToo and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Journalists will want to peruse his religiously-pitched 2016 interview with World, a Christian newsmagazine. Secular outlets have portrayed Sasse as sort of impressive but lamentably conservative, as in Mother Jones just before the 2016 election when Sasse declined to vote for Trump, slate.com in 2017 and Vanity Fair last month.

“Them” barely mentions a theme The Guy considers essential for a Sasse interview: What’s the role for religion, especially local congregations, in the healthy restored culture Sasse yearns for?

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After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story that ran with this headline:

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

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Evangelicals, post-Trump: Associated Press -- kind of -- scopes out movement's future

Evangelicals, post-Trump: Associated Press -- kind of -- scopes out movement's future

Oy, another story on the devil's bargain that is Donald Trump and evangelicalism? Well, no, it's better than that. The Associated Press examines the state of the movement after the presidential election -- win or lose. It just doesn't fully explore the questions it raises.

The indepth article shows the knowledge of the territory that a Godbeat pro like Rachel Zoll can impart. It quotes evangelical insiders, including those on each side of the Trump divide. And it adds cooler, more analytical views from scholars -- though still within the movement.

Trump's candidacy "has put a harsh spotlight on the fractures among Christian conservatives, most prominently the rift between old guard religious right leaders who backed the GOP nominee as an ally on abortion, and a comparatively younger generation who considered his personal conduct and rhetoric morally abhorrent," says a summary high in the story.

"This has been a kind of smack in the face, forcing us to ask ourselves, 'What have we become?'" Carolyn Custis James, an author on gender roles in the church, tells AP.

But how intensely are believers doing so?

Here's the evidence AP musters:

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Press coverage of evangelicals and Trump is getting confusing, and that's a good thing

Press coverage of evangelicals and Trump is getting confusing, and that's a good thing

Do you ever have those moments when you think the software gods that run the World Wide Web have lost their minds? You know, all those Amazon-esque programs that plug into your browsing history and try to predict what you want to read, watch or purchase.

So the video at the top of this post was the first thing that showed up this morning on YouTube when I went looking to see if anyone has done a report or commentary about religious reactions to the latest Hurricane Donald revelations. As you would expect, there are more than a few prophecy videos of this kind out there, some of which are just as worthy of The Onion.

No one doubts that there are wild people who are convinced Donald Trump is God's man for this hour. A few even have names news consumers would recognize, dating back to the Religious Right era.

But in terms of serious mainstream coverage -- about the "hot mic" fiasco and related Bill Clinton 2.0 issues -- the big news is that some reporters are starting to get a handle on key facts:

* There are people who buy the Trump gospel. Period.

* Not all religious and cultural conservatives fit under that umbrella. At some point, more journalists are going to need to listen -- seriously -- to conservative Catholics, Mormons and the new generation of conservative evangelical leaders.

* The old guard of the Religious Right is not where the action is, today, when it comes to growth in conservative Christianity.

* Many, many evangelical Protestants who "backed" Trump didn't back him because they think he is the best candidate. They bit their lips and said they would vote for him because they fear a Hillary Clinton victory more than anything else.

* Quite a few religious conservatives have had enough, when it comes to Trump. Did you see the LifeWay poll about a near majority of Protestant pastors that STILL do not know what they want to do on election day? "Undecided" remains the top choice.

So what do you need to read today?

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USA Today somehow manages to offer faith-free 'lesser of two evils' White House feature

USA Today somehow manages to offer faith-free 'lesser of two evils' White House feature

I have been away from my computer keyboard, for the most part, this past weekend due to (a) what amounted to the major-league baseball playoffs starting early and (b) long flights from Southern California back to the hills of Tennessee, via Detroit for some reason known only to the airline gods.

It is that second activity -- sojourns in airports and airplanes -- that is relevant to my strong reaction to the USA Today political feature that ran under the headline, "A sharpened debate: Is it ethical to not vote this year for president?"

You see, I made that journey while wearing a t-shirt containing this statement about the current White House race: "Giant Meteor 2016 -- Just End It Already." By no means did this represent a scientific poll of the electorate, but it did spark some interesting conversations. (Yes, my #NeverTrump #NeverHillary stance remains intact.)

Here is the bottom line: I have no idea how USA Today published an update on the whole "lesser of two evils" angle of the current White House campaign without mentioning religion and, in particular, the plight of conservative Catholics, evangelical Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Among frequent occupants of pews, the argument I keep reading and hearing can be stated like this: Yes, no one knows what Donald Trump will do since he is a reckless, unstable gambler with ethics as deep as an oil slick. However, on issues linked to the First Amendment and religious freedom (think U.S. Supreme Court) everyone knows that the only thing certain about Hillary Rodham Clinton is that she is a fierce warrior for the cultural left.

Here at GetReligion, we have been urging reporters to dig into the true Catholic swing vote -- which is Catholics who regularly attend Mass. I would assume the patterns there are similar to those found among evangelicals by Pew Research Center professionals when they did that poll showing (as covered by Christianity Today):

More than three-quarters of self-identified white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in the fall (78%). But they aren’t happy about it.

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Yo, Washington Post editors (again): Some conservatives don't really care about the GOP

Yo, Washington Post editors (again): Some conservatives don't really care about the GOP

Challenge No. 1: Write a history of conservative political life in the post-Roe v. Wade era -- focusing on the Republican Party in particular -- without mentioning the role of cultural and religious conservatives.

Do you think historians could pull that off?

Challenge No. 2: Write a news feature about the GOP race for the White House in 2016 without mentioning the role of religious conservatives -- white evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics, in particular -- in the primary battles between Citizen Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, etc. Do you think journalists could write such a story without including strong references to the prominent role of evangelical leaders in the #NeverTrump camp, as well as old-guard Religious Right folks in team Trump?

Actually, we sort of know that political-desk journalists at the Washington Post can meet that challenge, or one very similar to it. You see, they have already done that. See this earlier post: "Hey Washington Post czars: Evangelicals and Catholics are irrelevant in #NeverTrump camp?"

Now, here is Challenge No. 3: Go to Denver and cover the RedState Gathering for conservative leaders -- note that Trump was not invited -- and produce a report that includes zero information about the views of #NeverTrump religious and cultural conservatives.

Yes! The Washington Post political-desk pros are up to that challenge as well! See the recent feature that ran with this headline: "Once in control of their party, conservatives agonize over the election and beyond."

What does the word "conservative" mean in that equation? Honestly, after reading the story several times, I have no idea. Here is the overture:

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Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

There's an assumption circulating among some in the news media, some American Jews, both on the right and left, and among political-geeks in general that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is favored by Israelis over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The assumption is rooted in the belief that Trump -- based on his rhetoric (but ignoring his many contradictions) -- will be a more full-throated supporter of Israel than Clinton will be, and so of course Israelis back him over her.

How could they not? The United States is Israeli's most important international protector, so of course Israelis must want the toughest talking candidate.

As a #NeverTrump guy, I think this belief is very wrong. But this post isn't about who Israelis SHOULD support for president of the United States, but who they DO support. (Unless I state otherwise, when I refer to Israelis I'm referring in the main to Jewish Israelis. Israeli Arabs, or Israeli Palestinians, as many prefer to be called, have their own complicated political equations, be they Christian or Muslim.)

So who do Israelis prefer?

Here's a link from May to a Jerusalem Post story reporting on a survey that shows an Israeli preference for Clinton. Note that non-Jewish Israelis are included in this survey. And here's a CNBC analysis, also from May, that puts some meat on the bare-bones Post news report. 

Two salient CNBC paragraphs follow:

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Hey Washington Post editors: Why is Donald Trump in trouble in Utah? Think about it

Hey Washington Post editors: Why is Donald Trump in trouble in Utah? Think about it

For many elite journalists, it has been the big, nagging existential question for more than a year: Who is to blame for the rise of Donald Trump?

For starters, his popularity must have something to do with a revolt among blue-collar and Middle Class white Americans. The press seems to get that, in part because this trend can also be linked to some of the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But from the get go, journalists have been fascinated by the fact that some religious conservatives have -- no matter how outrageous the past actions of the proud playboy called The Donald -- been willing to forgive Trump's many sins against faith and family.

In other words, when in doubt, blame all those yahoos on the Religious Right.

The problem, of course, was the evidence that the more religious conservatives, you know, spent time in pews and pulpits the less likely they were to support Trump, especially with any sense of enthusiasm. The split between "cultural evangelicals" and the leadership class in their churches kept showing up in the exit polls. And what about Catholics? And Mormons? Is there a reason that someone like Mitt Romney is the face of the #NeverTrump world?

The bottom line: How can journalists cover the "lesser of two evils" story that dominates this year's White House race without weighing the moral and religious issues linked to that dilemma? What kinds of voters are in the most pain, right now, as they contemplate a choice between Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton?

This brings me to two items from The Washington Post that I am convinced are linked. It appears that the political editors at the Post don't see it that way.

Let's start with this headline at the reported blog called The Fix: "This new Utah poll is amazingly bad for Donald Trump." At the heart of the story is a truly shocking set of numbers, if you know anything about GOP life.

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Hey Washington Post czars: Evangelicals and Catholics are irrelevant in #NeverTrump camp?

Hey Washington Post czars: Evangelicals and Catholics are irrelevant in #NeverTrump camp?

It you have followed Republican politics over the past quarter century or so, you know that GOP White House wins have often been linked to what researchers have called the "pew gap," especially when there are high election-day vote totals among white evangelicals and devout Catholics.

That "pew gap" phenomenon can be stated as follows: The more non-African-Americans voters attend worship services, the more likely they are to vote for culturally conservative candidates -- almost always Republicans.

As I have stated before, it's hard to find a better illustration of this principle than the overture of the 2003 Atlantic Monthly essay called "Blue Movie." This piece focused on a campaign by Bill, not Hillary Rodham, Clinton, but it remains relevant. This passage is long, but remains essential -- especially in light of the very strange Washington Post piece about the remnants of the #NeverTrump movement that is the subject of this post. The Atlantic stated:

Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions. (Someone taking the liberal position, as pollsters define it, dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn't look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.) 

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