The Commander-of-Church-in-Chief

Stan HasteySo it’s come to this. Donald Trump’s grasp on the presidency, with scarcely five months to go before Election Day, is so tenuous that he deems it necessary to appear in the White House briefing room late on a Friday afternoon to make a two-minute statement declaring churches, synagogues and mosques so “essential” to the nation’s welfare that they are to reopen “at once.” Furthermore, he declares he will “override” any governor who might choose to reject the presidential edict, thus contradicting an earlier mandate that governors, not he, are responsible for reopening public spaces to business, athletic and entertainment venues, among others – presumably including houses of worship.

All this from a president whose longstanding practice, before and since his election, is to go to church exactly twice a year – on Christmas Eve and Easter Day. Oh, yes, he’s also made the short trek across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal, the “church of presidents,” where every president attends at least once.

“Without the so-called white evangelical vote, he has no chance at reelection.”

And where was the president two days following his pontifical command that churches be reopened “this Sunday,” on the Lord’s Day, May 24? At Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, 20 minutes west of the White House on a course designed by his buddy Jack Nicklaus. He had played there the day before as well, and his round on Sunday morning marked the 267th time since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, he had played golf, this according to thegolfnewsnet.com. Nearly all his golfing has been on some of the 17 golf courses around the world owned by the Trump Organization, a dozen of them in the United States.

And all this after repeatedly and sarcastically attacking Barack Obama for his golf outings as president. On the campaign trail in 2015-2016, one of Trump’s lines sure to fire up his crowds was to vow that unlike Obama, he would be too busy making America great again to have time to hit the links.

The simple fact is that President Trump is running scared, and understandably so. His press room appearance to demand the reopening of houses of worship is proof positive. Without the so-called white evangelical vote, he has no chance at reelection. Four years ago, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. More than four in five have continued to support him, according to virtually every public opinion poll taken since. On issue after issue, including on the telling question of overall approval, these Christian voters have stayed true to Trump.

Recent polling has begun to show cracks, however, specifically among older white voters. Meanwhile, Trump’s deficit with women generally continues to deepen. The president’s sheer meanness may be one reason. After golfing on Sunday, for example, he unleashed a series of retweets, originating with a notoriously racist and sexist website, consisting of highly personal attacks on favorite female targets.

He called Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he defeated in the 2016 election, “HRC the Skank.” He retweeted two doctored photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one with a “Trump 2020” face mask, the other with duct tape over her mouth. He then repeated the original tweet: “To protect PolyGrip during this pandemic, we have developed 2 options. With the DJT option, she will be able to tongue and adjust her dentures more easily; with duct tape, she won’t be able to drink booze on the job as much.”

And in another retweet from the same source, he mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams: “She fought a tough race, kissed a lot of babies and visited every buffet restaurant in the State.” Abrams, reportedly on Joe Biden’s short list of possible vice presidential picks, is one of Trump’s newer targets of ridicule. Whether she ends up as Biden’s choice or not, Trump knows Abrams’ get-out-the-vote effort is succeeding, in Georgia and beyond, and that Georgia itself increasingly is seen as a possible win for Democrats on Nov. 3. What has happened in Virginia over the past decade very well may be happening now in previously and reliably red Georgia.

“The cynical use of religious faith as a political wedge … will remain the modus operandi.”

Yes, Trump is running scared. He obsesses over the polls, and they’re increasingly bad for him. For starters, the once solidly GOP South is increasingly shaky for the president. He is behind in his newly adopted home state of Florida, with a real threat in Georgia and a nearly certain defeat (again) in Virginia. And he’s afraid he could lose Arizona, Colorado and Nevada in the West, all previously Republican strongholds. Depending on how things break in coming weeks and months, even Texas could be in play. In the ever-so-crucial battleground states in the Midwest, he is currently behind in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, some of which he won by the narrowest of margins four years ago in eking out his unlikely victory.

In addition, Trump’s party is threatened with the likely loss of the Senate majority he has counted on to stack the federal courts with ultraconservative judges. That, however, is a subject for another day.

Meanwhile, the cynical use of religious faith as a political wedge and conservative religious leaders as a political weapon will remain the modus operandi for the would-be Commander-of-Church-in-Chief.

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