It Doesn’t Matter If Donald Trump Is ‘Disciplined’

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It turns out that the boisterous and bigoted Donald Trump we’ve known for the last few years has just been acting a part. According to the frontrunner’s chief strategist Paul Manafort, Trump is simply “projecting an image“ and once Americans get to know the real Donald Trump, they’ll love him: “The negatives will come down, the image is going to change.”

What a relief!

Some pundits, it seems, were willing to play along with Manafort’s claim that Trump is shedding his outrageous persona, citing a single speech that he delivered immediately following his victory in the New York primary as proof that “Donald Trump 2.0” is “markedly more disciplined, gentler and more appealing than the version of Trump we’ve seen for much of the last year.”

Howard Kurtz of Fox News raved that “the disciplined Donald” was a “changed candidate” who has scrubbed the insults and started “acting more presidential. “

In reality, the only thing that was substantively different about Trump’s New York speech was that he referred to his chief opponent as “Senator Cruz” instead of “Lyin’ Ted.”

That’s it.

But before anybody had a chance to give him a medal for this brave reformation, Trump returned to using his “Lyin’ Ted” moniker in his subsequent speeches and Twitter broadsides. The much-heralded new, disciplined and thoughtful Donald Trump didn’t even last a day.

He even mocked reports of his supposed “presidential” transformation, a transformation we’ve been hearing about since well into last year.

The standards for Trump are so low that he was even hailed for acting “more presidential” simply for using a teleprompter in a speech.

There seems to be no expectation that Trump will have any knowledge of world events, answer basis questions or hold consistent positions. Instead, he wins praise simply for not insulting someone.

Today Trump will deliver a speech at the Mayflower Hotel as part of a series of speeches intended to show “a more sober and serious presidential candidate,” who so far has mostly received attention for his uninformed rants and almost daily policy shifts.

But Trump changing his style won’t make the substance of what he says any less terrifying. After all, his main foreign policy objectives include committing war crimes and accelerating nuclear proliferation.

Appearances in “formal settings” won’t change the fact that Trump’s speeches are so replete with falsehoods that some reporters covering him have admitted that they have all but given up on fact-checking them.

Trump seems to relish in repeating mistruths, like his claim about Muslims partying in New Jersey on 9/11 or a U.S. general who he said rightly massacred Muslim prisoners with bullets covered in pig’s blood. Both are fallacious stories that gained popularity in the online rumor mill. Not that that matters to Trump, who said of the dubious massacre: “It’s an amazing story. It shows toughness, it shows toughness. A true story. The press will say, ‘Well it was a rumor.’ It’s not a rumor, it’s a true story.”

His bizarre birther conspiracy theories, disparaging remarks about POWs and criticism of vaccines have largely faded from the limelight as Trump finds new outrageous things to say each week.

No other candidate for president would ever be able to get away with the amount of falsehoods, unhinged diatribes and sleaze pushed on a daily basis by Trump.

And simply saying that it was all an act doesn’t make Trump a new man or any less scary of a possible future president.

###

PFAW

Strengthening Public Education in the Face of Relentless Assaults

Hundreds of teachers, parents, students, school board members and other public education advocates gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 16 and 17  for “And Justice for All: Strengthening Public Education for Each Child,” the third annual conference sponsored by the Network for Public Education and its political advocacy affiliate NPE Action.

The mission of the Network for Public Education is to “protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students.” It was founded by education historian and author Diane Ravitch as a way to mobilize supporters of public education in opposition to powerful forces that promote privatization and other “reforms” that undermine public education as a core democratic institution.

Rev. William Barber, who heads the North Carolina NAACP and has because a hero to progressive advocates for his inspirational leadership of the Moral Mondays movement, gave a rousing opening keynote before heading to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Democracy Awakening. Barber said public schools are “where we learn to be a public” and develop a “common civic identity.” But, he said, “racism always gets in the way of us meeting the noble goals of public education.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Barber said of attacks on public education combined with tax cuts for the wealthy. He recounted the history of resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and racial redistricting of school districts, noting that schools are re-segregating in high poverty areas today faster than they did in the 1970s.  He said school reforms that contribute to separate and unequal school systems are “giving in to the vision of Plessy v. Ferguson.”

Among the more than 45 panels and workshops was a conversation with two members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, State Sen. Dwight Bullard from south Florida, and County Commissioner Jessica Holmes from Wake County, North Carolina, with PFAW Director of Outreach and Partner Engagement Diallo Brooks acting as moderator.

Bullard, the only classroom teacher in the state legislature, said that bad education policies are moving through the legislature for a variety of reasons: some of his fellow legislators are naïve about education policy and some have family and financial ties to charter school operations.  Bullard said that even though the state government has expanded so-called school choice provisions, the “house of cards is falling apart” when it comes to overzealous testing that harms students’ education. He said dissatisfaction with the overuse of high-stakes testing offers opportunities for coalition building, noting that a recent press conference included liberal legislators, members of the teachers union, and Tea Party activists.

Holmes said that she is a first generation college student attributing her success to “amazing, wonderful public school teachers.” She described herself as a reluctant politician, but urged other participants to consider becoming policymakers as a way to make a real difference.  In a state that ranks near the bottom of the scale for teacher pay, she said, she worked to win approval for the largest education budget in her county’s history, while also developing support for early childhood development. Meanwhile, at the state level, millions in tax dollars were diverted to unaccountable private schools through vouchers.  

The panelists said that supporters of public education must respond to the amount of money and political influence wielded by privatization advocates with on-the-ground organizing that can provide public officials with both incentive and cover to do the right thing.

Another topic of conversation was the damage caused by the explosion of high-stakes testing and the diversion of educational time and resources to test taking. Speakers argued that testing should be used to identify areas of needed improvement for students, not as simplistic evaluation tools that label students and schools as failing. The “test and punish” approach has set up teachers and schools to be declared failures by implementing high-stakes tests without resources and professional development.

Another keynoter, Seattle teacher and blogger Jesse Hagopian, noted that when Washington state declined to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan revoked a waiver from unrealistic standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result, nearly every school in the state, including some of its best, was classified as “failing.” School officials sent parents a letter required by the federal government informing them that their school was now classified as failing, but included a cover letter explaining that NCLB was “regressive and punitive” and that the designation was bogus.

Among other topics covered at the conference:

  • alternatives to increasing privatization and of public school systems, including proven community schools approaches that use schools as a vehicle for addressing broader community needs;
  • the impact of charter schools’ disproportionate use of suspensions and other “zero-tolerance” policies against students of color;
  • the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in promoting right-wing attacks on public education in state legislatures.  North Carolina’s Tom Tillis was ALEC “Legislator of the Year” before the Koch brothers helped finance his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate;
  • the growing movement among educators to resist high-stakes tests and an opt-out movement among parents and students.

A number of speakers denounced HB2, the recently enacted North Carolina law that overturned Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance – and banned localities from passing their own protections against discrimination as well as living wage ordinances.

People For the American Way Foundation board member Bertis Downs is also a member of NPE’s board of directors, said the conference was a “big success” in bringing together advocates from around the country to meet and compare notes with fellow activists. Downs praised the quality of the presentations and the fact that many of the workshops and all of the keynote speeches were livestreamed and are being archived online at www.schoolhouselive.org.

 

PFAW

Donald Trump’s Pyramid Scheme for America

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

For a man who constantly brags about his success, Donald Trump sure does like to play the victim. In his latest round of self-pity, the billionaire mogul has decried the delegate-allocation system in Colorado, where his rival, Ted Cruz, won the Republican presidential primary contest in a landslide. 

Trump’s campaign is built around earned media and stadium-sized rallies, and never established the “ground game” critical to win states like Colorado, where delegates are elected by state convention attendees. Predictably, his spokeswoman Katrina Pierson called the process “rigged” and a “pyramid scheme.”

While “pyramid scheme” may be an odd way to describe Colorado’s delegate system, the word accurately reflects many of Trump’s campaign promises.

Trump the businessman knows a little something about pyramid schemes. 

He has endorsed, and in some cases put his name on, companies accused of operating like pyramid schemes, where the first people who sign up reap almost all of the benefits, while the vast majority of people, often lured to buy in with assurances of making huge sums of money, are left in the dust.

The Washington Post reported that one such multilevel marketing company, the Trump Network, “often gave the impression of a partnership that was certain to lift thousands of people into prosperity.” In reality, the alternative-medicine sales company had dismal outcomes and left many people feeling scammed and deceived.

Trump’s pitch for the group sounds like one of his stump speeches, promising to save the American dream from the destructive work of the greedy. 

“Americans need a new plan, they need a new dream,” he said while pitching the company in 2009. “The Trump Network wants to give millions of people a renewed hope and with an exciting plan to opt out of the recession. Let’s get out of this recession right now with cutting edge health and wellness formulas.”

In his campaign addresses, Trump likes to remark that “the American Dream is dead - but if I win, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.” Add a bit about “health and wellness” and you have a Trump Network infomercial. 

In 2009, Trump boasted that the Trump Network had sparked “unbelievable enthusiasm” and was “a phenomena” that was “going to be really amazing, really amazing.” But the group was selling discredited and suspect treatments and ended up as one of his many business failures.

His work with the company resembles his time on the campaign trail, where he pretends to fight the corrupt political process and financial system while making vague, ambitious promises of national and personal redemption.

He tells supporters that we “are going to start winning again and we’re going to win so much, you are going to be so happy, we are going to make America so great again, maybe greater than ever before.” Trump will not only make you rich, he says, but he will even “get rid of your depression.”

But like in any pyramid scheme, with Trump’s proposals, the ones at the very top will benefit while everyone else loses out.

Under Trump’s massive $12 trillion tax plan, “the top 1 percent of Americans will receive an average tax break of $227,000 per year while the bottom 20 percent will receive an average tax cut of only $250,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, which found that “the majority of Trump’s tax cut would go to the top five percent of taxpayers.” 

But the biggest winners of Trump’s tax cut won’t be the top five percent. They won’t even be the top one percent.

“[T]he benefits would be overwhelmingly skewed to the highest-income taxpayers, with those in the top 0.1 percent (who make $3.7 million or more) getting an average tax cut of more than $1.3 million,” says Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.

Forget about Voodoo Economics. This is Pyramid Scheme Economics.

The supposedly populist candidate also promises to pay off the entire $19 trillion national debt in just eight years — “very easy” — but one estimate found that his huge tax cut for the rich alone will grow the debt by almost 80 percent

Just fulfilling his pledge to balance the budget would be mathematically impossibleunder the proposal he has laid out to do so.

Trump’s plan, if ever implemented, would wreck the economy. And that is not even counting the human and economic costs of his massive deportation scheme.

On the campaign trail, Trump is marketing his candidacy the same way he pitched his bogus health business: I am going to save the American Dream and make us rich.

But like any pyramid scheme, it is bound to fail, and take many people down with it.

PFAW

Who’s Driving The GOP’s Supreme Court Blockade?

Almost immediately after the news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, Republican senators started vowing to block the nomination of whomever President Obama appoints to succeed the conservative jurist. They were egged on in this kneejerk obstructionism by outside conservative groups who quickly circled the wagons in an effort to shut down any Supreme Court confirmation process.

Now, a few key conservative groups are leading the effort to pressure Republican senators to stay in line and to make it politically difficult for vulnerable Democrats to cooperate in a confirmation process. These groups have unified around a message that “the American people should decide” who the next Supreme Court justice is by waiting until the next president can nominate him or her — never mind that Americans did decide who they wanted picking Supreme Court justices when they reelected Obama in 2012.

This “let the people decide” message belies the true goals of the groups pushing it — not some idealistic belief in good governance, but an effort to shape a Supreme Court that favors business interests at the expense of workers and consumers and that helps to turn back the clock on women, LGBT people  and religious minorities.

A new report from People For the American Way looks at four of the conservative groups driving this strategy, outlining their history and their goals for the federal judiciary. It includes:

  • The Judicial Crisis Network was founded during the George W. Bush administration as the Judicial Confirmation Network with the goal of pushing through the nominations and confirmations of far-right judges to the federal bench.
  • The American Center for Law & Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, often acts as a legal arm for the Religious Right’s attempts to deny liberties to LGBT people, Muslim Americans and others.
  • The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action have become forces for obstructionism as they pressure Republicans to abandon any attempt at bipartisan cooperation or simple governance.
  • The Family Research Council is working to turn back the clock on social advances for women, LGBT people and religious minorities — something that it hopes a friendly Supreme Court will accelerate.

Read the full report here.

PFAW

The Cruel Irony Of The Anti-Choice Movement’s TRAP Strategy

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which could be the most influential abortion rights case in decades. Whole Woman’s Health, which addresses a Texas law that aims to close abortion clinics by saddling them with expensive and unnecessary regulations, puts to the test the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy of passing targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws meant to squeeze abortion providers out of existence.

As early as 1990, attorney Walter Dellinger, who went on to serve in the Clinton administration, was warning that the emerging strategy of setting up obstacles to abortion access would push women to obtain abortions later in their pregnancies, a more expensive and less safe procedure. These supposed “compromise” measures, he noted, were at the same time sometimes coupled with calls to cut off legal abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy. Dellinger wrote in The American Prospect:

To enact in the United States laws that simply prohibit abortions after twelve or eighteen weeks would constitute a strange and cruel response to the issue of late abortions. In this country, legislative deadlines for abortion would co-exist with access regulations designed to prevent women from being able to meet the deadline. No state truly concerned about either the increased maternal health risks or the moral implications of late abortions should consider the coercive step of prohibiting second trimester abortions while simultaneously pursuing policies that cause abortion to be delayed. … Bans on funding for abortions, shutting off access to public hospitals, parental consent/ judicial bypass laws, and testing requirements all fall into this category. Legislators who are troubled in principle by late abortions should support instead measures ensuring that every woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy can do so as early and as safely as possible.

Fast forward to late last year, when a study showed that exactly that had happened after Texas implemented its restrictive new law:

A new report released by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project — a research group based at the University of Texas at Austin that’s been tracking the state’s reproductive health policy over the past four years — finds that recent clinic shutdowns have greatly limited access to timely abortions statewide. In some cases, women had to wait nearly a month to be seen. In others, clinics had to turn women away, since they had no available appointment slots open.

As wait time to get an abortion increases, the estimated proportion of abortions performed in the second trimester increases. These later surgical abortions, although safe, are associated with a higher risk of complications and are significantly more costly to women than an earlier medical abortion. And even staunch abortion opponents are more opposed to late-term abortions compared to earlier procedures, citing the scientifically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation.

At today’s arguments in Whole Women’s health, Justice Anthony Kennedy hinted at this issue, according to the Wall Street Journal’s early reports:

Justice Kennedy ends the string of questions from the women justices.

He notes that drug-induced abortions are up nationwide, but down in Texas, where the number of surgical abortions is up since the state enacted its law. He wondered whether such an impact was “medically wise.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg similarly called out Texas’ solicitor general for undermining his own claim that the state’s regulations were meant to protect women’s health:

Justice Ginsburg asks: How many women will be located more than 100 miles from a clinic? Mr. Keller makes reference to a 25% number, but says that number is high because it doesn’t take into account some women close to clinics in New Mexico.

That’s odd, Justice Ginsburg says. She wonders why Texas would consider those New Mexico clinics an option, given that they wouldn’t meet the standards set forth in the state law. If your argument is right, New Mexico is “not a way out” for Texas, the justice tells Mr. Keller.

Even as the anti-choice movement is pushing restrictive regulations that, as the Texas study showed, drive women to seek abortions later in their pregnancy, it is championing measures at the state and federal level that would cut off legal abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, partway through the second trimester.

Of course, the anti-choice movement is focusing on these two strategies because they believe they can pass muster in the courts and in public opinion in a way that the ultimate goal — an outright ban on abortion — would not. But what is left is not a regime that protects women’s health, as proponents of Texas’ law claim, but one that makes it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain an abortion, which has been their ultimate goal all along.

 

PFAW

Donald Trump's Horrifying Anti-Immigrant Message Is Anything But New

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump has horrifyingly shot to the top of the Republican presidential primary in part by presenting a belligerent "us vs. them" message -- with "them" usually being immigrants. It's no surprise that Trump's rhetoric has been appealing to white nationalists. In calling for the mass deportation of Latino immigrants and for barring Muslims from the country, he paints a picture of a country of and for white people.

Many Republicans have feigned shock and some, though not nearly enough have spoken out against Trump's bigotry. But while Trump has certainly helped to take the vitriol of the immigration debate to new levels, calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and drug dealers and promising a "great wall" at the southern border, the sentiments he's expressing and policies he's pushing are nothing new. Trump and his fellow Republican presidential contenders are working out of a playbook that has been guiding the anti-immigrant movement on the ground and in Congress for a very long time. 

The current anti-immigrant movement centers around three groups -- the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA that all grew out of the vision of one activist who, like Trump, has unapologetically depicted America as a country of and for white people. While even some on the right are horrified by Trump's racism, these groups have long enjoyed a friendly reception on Capitol Hill as they have helped to sink any meaningful attempt at immigration reform. In fact, when it comes to policy, these groups are in many ways more extreme than Trump. NumbersUSA, which gives grades to candidates based on their immigration views, even docked Trump's grade over the summer, not because of his offensive remarks about immigrants but because he had put forward a muddled plan for a "merit-based system" for some undocumented immigrants.

A new report from People For the American Way explores the history and the influence of these three groups at the center of the opposition to immigration reform. 

John Tanton, the founder of all three groups, made his view of America clear when he wrote in 1993, "I have come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, it requires an European-American majority and a clear one at that." At other times, he worried about a "Latin onslaught" on the United States and of immigrants "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs."

These views have been echoed by some in leadership positions of Tanton's organizations, including FAIR president Dan Stein, who once wondered, "How can we preserve America if it becomes 50 percent Latin American?" One member of FAIR's board of advisors once suggested giving "shoot-to-kill orders" to troops positioned on the southern border.

Tanton and some of his allies in this network of anti-immigration groups have also promoted extreme "population control" measures that should be troubling to anyone no matter if they're pro-life, pro-choice or anywhere in between. Tanton has praised China's one-child policy and regretted that India did not impose similar measures, and expressed his concern about "less intelligent" people having children. When asked about a former FAIR board member espousing similar viewpoints, Stein responded, "Yeah, so what? What is your problem with that?"

Those views were reflected years later when the conservative behemoth Heritage Foundation released a report estimating that immigration reform would cost the U.S. $6.3 trillion. The report essentially made the incorrect assumption that immigrants and their descendants would not be upwardly mobile. It was hardly surprising, then, when it turned out that one of the report's authors had previously written a dissertation positing that immigrants have lower IQs than native-born white Americans.

The anti-immigrant demagoguery we're hearing from Trump and others has a long history that precedes even Tanton and his network of advocacy groups. But understanding the forces behind today's immigration debate helps to put Trump in perspective. Trump talks a big, hateful, game, but his views are disturbingly close to those that have too long been met with a warm welcome --or at least a blind eye -- in Washington.

Read PFAW's new report, "The Anti-Immigrant Lobby: The White Nationalist Roots of the Organizations Fighting Immigration."

PFAW

‘School Choice’ Just Part of DeVos Family’s Far Right Agenda

Members of the DeVos family, which made billions with the Amway direct marketing company, have long been funders of far-right causes and Republican politicians. Over the years, they’ve appeared in PFAW and PFAW Foundation reports like Buying a Movement and Predatory Privatization. This week Inside Philanthropy has taken a  look at DeVos funding, which has been instrumental in driving anti-public education efforts all across the country.

The story’s author, Rick Docksai, writes that the DeVos family’s success at pushing “school choice” reflects its “remarkable talent for moving money by the truckload into socially conservative causes and putting it to work to shift voters’ and lawmakers’ mindsets in a rightward direction.”

Among the right-wing groups DeVos has funded are the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Federalist Society, Council for National Policy, Traditional Values Coalition, the Acton Institute, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. But education policy is a top priority.

Betsy DeVos is quite the political ringleader in her own right. She formerly chaired the Michigan Republican Party. And she's been called "the four-star general of the voucher movement," for her activism on this issue, which includes her present-day gigs as a board member of Advocates for School Choice and as head of All Children Matter, a group that has been pumping contributions into state elections since its inception in 2003. Conservative education reforms—school vouchers, in particular—are its rallying cause, and the organization claims a "win/loss record" of 121 to 60...

Docksai contrasts the DeVos family’s commitment to Religious Right and and social conservative causes with the Koch brothers’ more libertarian leanings. But, he notes, the DeVos family is just as far-right as the Kochs on economic policy:

DeVos' influence helped turn Michigan into a "right-to-work" state (e.g., no company in the state can obligate its employees to pay dues for union representation), for example. And they firmly back opponents of affirmative action: The Center for Individual Rights received funding from Dick and Betsy DeVos in 2001 after it challenged the University of Michigan's race-based admissions process in court, a lengthy legal fight that resulted in new court-imposed restrictions on the use of race as an admissions factor.

Inside Philanthropy says that Jeb Bush’s failed presidential campaign got “a significant share of its funding from Richard DeVos,” but says that’s a departure from the DeVos’s political win-loss record: “The family has been a major shaper of policymaking at the state and national levels and will surely remain so for years to come.”  

PFAW

Donald Trump Is Disrupting The Religious Right's Christian-America Dreams

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The closed-door meeting in Texas in December at which dozens of Religious Right leaders agreed to rally around Ted Cruz for president was in some ways a big payoff for years of work by Republican political operative David Lane. Lane believes America was founded by and for Christians and has a national mission to advance the Christian faith. He sees politics as spiritual warfare against the evil forces of secularism and “pagan” homosexuality. Lane has been building an “army” of conservative evangelical pastors to run for office and turn their churches into get-out-the-vote operations for Republican candidates.

Lane’s allies and funders played an essential role in putting together that secret endorsement meeting for Ted Cruz, which came after months of indications that Cruz, who has never met a Religious Right figure too extreme to embrace, was winning the“Christian-nation primary.” Shortly after that meeting, Cruz and his Religious Right fans gathered at a ranch owned by Farris Wilks, a fracking billionaire who, with his brother, gave $15 million to a pro-Cruz super PAC. The Wilks brothers are big fundersof Lane’s efforts and other far-right political causes. A separate, but affiliated, Cruz super PAC is being run by another Christian-nation activist, right-wing “historian”David Barton.

Lane believes that conservative evangelicals split their votes in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries and were stuck with nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, vowing that this year would be different. Conservative evangelicals would be inspired into action by politically engaged pastors and would choose a presidential nominee who shared Lane’s Christian-nation vision. They would elect an evangelical president who would help lead the nation to spiritual and political renewal.

But 2016’s campaign is different in ways Lane could not have anticipated. In South Carolina, the divinely anointed Cruz campaign took third place, with Donald Trump sweeping the most heavily evangelical parts of the state and beating Cruz handily among evangelical voters.  Many of the state’s Republican leaders threw their support not to Cruz, but to Marco Rubio; chief among them was Gov. Nikki Haley, who hadhosted one of Lane’s political prayer rallies last summer. Trump won by an even bigger margin in the Nevada caucuses.

Shortly before the South Carolina primary, Cruz was in Spartanburg to meet privately with “hundreds of pastors and their wives” at a meeting sponsored by David Lane’s American Renewal Project. Cruz’s appearance was supplemented by a softballinterview with Lane’s “good friend” David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. In that interview, Cruz made a version of his standard pitch for a presidential run based on turnout of evangelical Christians. Cruz told Brody,

"If we allow our leaders to be selected from non-believers we shouldn't be surprised when our leaders don't share our values. So what I'm working to do more than anything else is energize and empower the grassroots and do everything we can for Christians to stand up and vote biblical values.”

After the election, Brody acknowledged that Trump had beaten Cruz among the state’s evangelical voters. Brody’s explanation?

Evangelicals are upset with the Republican Party too. They’ve felt like cheap political pawns for years, constantly being used by the GOP to get out and vote and then having nothing to show for it. With Trump, many of those evangelicals feel like they’ve found the politically incorrect mouthpiece to channel their inner frustration. Is he the most righteous man to carry the torch? No. Is he the most transparent and authentic one? Clearly, they believe so.

Journalist Sarah Posner has written about the ways that Trump divides the Christian Right. Trump has been endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Jr. even though the candidate is “unabashedly ignorant of the biblical imperatives that form the foundation of evangelical culture and politics.” Trump’s support indicates that many evangelicals do not, in fact, share the culture-war priorities of the movement’s leaders, Posner suggests, adding that Trump is the candidate who most resembles a prosperity-gospel televangelist who portrays wealth as a sign of God’s favor. Says Posner, “Trump’s supporters -- both evangelical and not -- apparently are willing to believe that worshiping self-serving hype will somehow produce a miracle for them.”

Along similar lines, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said in January that Ted Cruz was leading in the Jerry Falwell wing of the evangelical movement, Marco Rubio in the Billy Graham wing, and Trump in the Jimmy Swaggart wing.

In a recent article for In These Times, Theo Anderson also took a look at the “great puzzle” of evangelical Christians flocking to Trump, “the Republican candidate most out of step with evangelicals on social issues and the most tin-eared regarding religion.” Anderson concludes that Trump’s success reflects many evangelicals’ desire for an “anti-establishment” candidate as well as what he calls Trump’s performance of a prophetic style of politics practiced by conservative radio preachers who encourage their listeners to stand against the corruptions of the world: “Trump’s speeches and social media output are a stream of falsehoods that speak to the certainty - the ‘higher truth’ - that white Christians, and the nation they love, are being betrayed and targeted.”

Trump, for his part, has embraced the Religious Right’s claims that Christians in America are under “assault,” particularly from department stores and coffee chains that don’t show due reverence to Christmas, and that Muslims pose an existential threat to the country.

Trump’s success among evangelicals is maddening to some of Cruz’s backers. Glenn Beck, who believes God has called Cruz to save America from the abyss, had urged his viewers to fast on Cruz’s behalf before the Nevada caucuses. Beck says he fears that Trump is the embodiment of “The Bubba Effect,” in which a group of people are pushed over the edge into violence by an overbearing government. Beck says that only the election of Ted Cruz can save America from violent revolution, warning that the country will not be able to recover if it elects a socialist, authoritarian, or member of the status quo.

Speaking of authoritarians, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams wrote recently that the single most significant predictor of a voter’s support for Trump is their level of authoritarian inclinations, which suggests that support for Trump’s blustery strongman routine is detached to some degree from a voter’s ideological or theological leanings. That’s one reason Trump’s campaign frightens some conservatives who see Trump’s insistence that he’d be a fix-it strongman (to some commentators, a would-be Mussolini), as undermining conservatives’ political and intellectual campaign against a strong federal government.

Of course, Trump hasn’t rejected the Religious Right policy agenda. In fact he has fully embraced much of it, pledging to defund Planned Parenthood as long as the organization performs abortions. He has supported Senate Republicans’ vow not to consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee and vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices “as close to Scalia as you could find.” He has called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “shocking” and suggested Religious Right activists should trust him to put judges on the Court who would “unpass” that ruling and Roe v. Wade. Those kind of pledges may help Trump win conservative evangelical votes, or at least make evangelicals feel more comfortable voting for him in spite of a political and personal record that contravenes the values they say they hold dear.

The campaign for the GOP nomination isn’t over, but Religious Right leaders must be wondering how it is that their Chosen One has faltered and seems to be losing ground to the charlatan Trump. In fact, National Review reported on Wednesday that Religious Right leaders who rallied around Cruz are talking amongst themselves aboutabandoning him for Rubio if Cruz doesn’t do well on “Super Tuesday” next week.

If Trump is the nominee, many religious conservatives will vote for him because he is the Republican candidate. But it could be a bitter pill, one that some may not be able to swallow. In National Review’s seemingly ineffectual issue devoted to making a case against Trump as the Republican nominee, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote:

Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.

But Trump continues to reach out to the conservative evangelical leaders. He headed to Pat Robertson’s Regent University on Wednesday, where Robertson told him, “you inspire us all,” and invited him to come back to Regent after the election as President Trump. And while Trump isn’t the candidate around whom many Religious Right leaders decided to coalesce, Christian-nation activist David Lane may harbor some hopes for a Trump candidacy. Last summer Lane said of Trump, “America is starving for moral, principled leadership. I hope that Donald Trump brings that.”

PFAW

The Extremists Behind the 2016 GOP Presidential Candidates

As People For the American Way (PFAW) Senior Researcher for Special Projects Miranda Blue explained on the most recent telebriefing for PFAW members, “In past years, we’ve seen extreme endorsers for Republican presidential candidates, but there was always a level of extremism that the candidates wouldn’t go past. This year, it’s completely different. Leading 2016 Republican presidential candidates have shared the stage with individuals who say that the government should kill gay people, embrace a Christian Nation ideology, and more.”

This unprecedented extremism was discussed during last Thursday’s telebriefing, and has been closely tracked by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch team.

Some of the most striking examples come from Ted Cruz. He spoke at a conference alongside far-right pastor Kevin Swanson, who believes that according to the Bible, our government should impose the death penalty on gay people. Troy Newman, who Cruz appointed to co-chair his anti-abortion committee, has argued that the government should execute abortion providers. And Cruz touted the endorsement of Mike Bickle, who says that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God for the Jewish people. But don’t just take our word for it – watch this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show last month, which uses research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch:

It’s not just Ted Cruz who’s courting extremists. Donald Trump, for example, has campaigned with the support of people like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Coulter is not quite the household name that Palin is, but they’re two peas in a pod in their far-right extremism. Coulter said recently that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was her “best birthday gift ever!”

Far-right figures also exert undue influence in the 2016 election through campaign spending. Because of Citizens United, millionaires and billionaires are able to push a far-right agenda in the Republican Party through unlimited expenditures. As PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery discussed on the telebriefing, Farris and Dan Wilks are top donors to Ted Cruz’s super PACs. The Wilks brothers hold strongly anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-government views. Peter was quoted earlier this month in the Houston Chronicle discussing the Wilks brothers: "Their willingness to pour millions of dollars into the presidential race and to write enormous checks for Religious Right organizations give them the potential to make a huge and destructive impact on our politics.”

Marco Rubio, for his part, is bankrolled both personally and professionally by billionaire Norman Braman. Marco Rubio returned the favor to Braman when he was in the Florida state legislature; Rubio “has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman’s favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami instate for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.”

As the 2016 election continues, we’re sure to see more of the far-right financing and supporting the leading 2016 candidates. Be sure to follow our coverage at www.rightwingwatch.org.

PFAW