What role will Evangelicals play in the 2016 presidential election? How to explain the unexpected rise of Republican candidate Donald Trump? These were among the questions panelists grappled with during a lunchtime discussion hosted by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
The event took place at the University Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 5. Panelists included Washington Examiner Politics Editor Jim Antle, pro-life author and activist Charmaine Yoest, Ethics and Public Policy Center Vice President Michael Cromartie, and Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes. The panel was introduced by IRD President Mark Tooley. It was attended by members of the IRD staff and board, in addition to members of the public.
Below is a transcript of this panel, lightly edited for continuity. Also included is a gallery containing photos from the event.
Tooley: The experts include one of our IRD board members, more famously television commentator and founding editor of The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes.
And then my friend Jim Antle, who is at the Washington Examiner, great columnist and journalist, and he and I are the only two conservative Methodists in Washington, D.C. Glad Jim is here.
And of course Mike Cromertie, vice president of Ethics and Public Policy Center, who knows everything there is to know about Evangelicals in America. He will bring that expertise to us today, so thank you Mike.
And finally Charmaine Yoest, herself a well-known commentator and writer, an exponent for the pro-life cause, and she’s most distinguished for her mother Janice Crouse who is chair of the IRD board. So Charmaine, great to have you here.
In terms of who speaks first, that should be based on whoever has finished their lunch first. Jim, you’re not eating, so maybe you can go first. If you could kick us off.
Antle: As long as I don’t get indigestion while talking about the 2016 campaign I’ll be fine. And so, just to give you a little bit of a rundown, on the Republican side, obviously everything has been very dominated by Donald Trump. I’m the politics editor at Washington Examiner, but since Trump has been in the race I’ve felt much more like the entertainment editor.
Essentially the Republican race is about a number. It’s about the number 1,237. Either Trump will get that number – that is the number of delegates that is required to [obtain the] absolute majority of delegates at the Republican National Convention. That’s the number any one will need to get in order to win the nomination, the minimum threshold, and it’s probably the number Donald Trump probably needs to win on the first ballot if he is going to be the nominee.
The thinking is that if he is not winning the majority on the first ballot, on subsequent ballots when the delegates are no longer required to vote as their states and congressional districts have voted that he will begin to bleed support, and that even some of those people who are attending the Republican National Convention as Trump delegates will not actually be Trump supporters. So once they are no longer required to vote for Donald Trump, the thinking is that they will no longer do so. Most states only confine their delegates for the first ballot. Some do for the first two. There are a couple of cases where I think it’s the first three. But after that it’s a free for all.
So the real question is whether Trump can hit that number, and it’s not clear that he can, but he is the only person who can mathematically at this point through the primary process. No one else right now can win the Republican presidential nomination through the primaries and caucuses that remain. Anybody else who becomes the nominee has to become the nominee through a contested convention process. So Ted Cruz and John Kasich are remaining in the race with the hopes that they would be able to prevail at the convention. Ted Cruz, I think, however, does need to get as close as he can in order to make a more compelling argument.
The sort of advantage that Trump has, and the disadvantage that Cruz has, is that Cruz’s popularity with a lot of Republican insiders is not much better than Trump’s and in fact there was a lot of reluctance early on by Republican donors to fund anti-Trump activities when it looked like Cruz would be the primary beneficiary of anti-Trump activities. The hope was always among a lot of these Republicans was that Marco Rubio would at some point emerge and be in a position to benefit from anything that harmed Trump. And there were some brief periods where that looked like it might come to pass, but that’s not ultimately not what happened. Rubio is now out of the race.
Rubio, however, is still a factor in the race because he has suspended his campaign. He has not released his delegates. He is urging them to stick with him as long as their state party rules require them to do so. That would make him a factor in denying Trump the absolute majority that he needs. Unfortunately, Rubio failed in his biggest opportunity to deprive Trump of a majority when he did not win his home state primary, which is a winner-take-all state, and Donald Trump instead won it in very, very convincing fashion and got all of those delegates.
But still, Rubio did well enough to get a significant cache of delegates. And John Kasich, by virtue of winning his home state of Ohio and managing to collect some stragglers here and there, also has what is going to be a significant group. He’s got about 143 or so delegates.
So we’ve never really in the modern primary process had to concern ourselves this much with who individual delegates are and, you know, what they’re going to do once they get to Cleveland. Because in the modern process, everything’s really been decided by the primaries and the caucuses, and the convention is kind of a formality. And people show up and they listen to speeches and, you know, they sightsee during the day, and they, you know, go watch speeches at night. And it may not be like that this time.
Trump, even if he gets a majority, will be very close. So then the fact that some states like Pennsylvania have large numbers of unbound delegates will be very important. The fact that a lot of state conventions influence, or actually determine, what the identity of delegates, regardless of who they are allocated to by the primary process, becomes very important. And just, you know, I think you may end up seeing challenges to different delegates. You might see Donald Trump threatening to sue lots of people. So it’s become a very interesting and kind of insidery process.
Another thing to watch is this possibility that the convention may bring somebody from the outside to become the Republican nominee. Once it is thrown open — an “open convention” is actually the term that the RNC prefers — once it becomes open that is a real possibility. The people involved in the rules process are very divided on whether that would be a good thing to do. Some people say “yes” because none of the current candidates — or a lot of the current candidates, people don’t have a lot of confidence in their general election ability. Other people say “no” because you had people spend millions of dollars, and in some cases get millions of votes, and you’re simply going to tell them, “Well too bad. We’re going to give Paul Ryan this job, too.” Or, you know, whomever.
There is a limit though, I think, on the number of jobs we can’t find anybody else to do for the Republican Party. Be that as it may. So that is also a possibility.
So you could see then a strange alliance forming between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at the convention because they will control the overwhelming majority of delegates. They may, at some point, their increasing personal acrimony aside, need each other, because they will then be in the best position to prevent some kind of— by working together, prevent some kind of white knight from coming in.
And then a huge thing that doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with the primaries at all, but may end up deciding the entire outcome of the nomination process, is the rules committee. The big thing about the rules of the Republican National Convention is that there really aren’t any rules that are binding on the rules committee. They can really rewrite pretty much anything they want to do. It hasn’t really mattered in the past, because the convention has primarily — with the exception of 1976 when there was a contested convention between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, which Ford won on the first ballot — the conventions have really been a pep rallies for the nominee.
So the most significant recent rules change was in 2012 when they decided they wanted to require that anybody who name was placed in nomination had to have won a majority of delegates in eight rather five states, because Ron Paul had won a majority of delegates in five states, and he otherwise would have been able to have his name placed his name in nomination. Now Ron Paul supporters and some others were unhappy with that rule change, but it did not alter the outcome of the nomination process. Even if they had placed his name in nomination, Mitt Romney still would have beat him. So the rules change really served primarily to preserve the Republican National Convention as a pep rally for the eventual nominee, and it was going to be Mitt Romney.
In this case, rules changes about how many states and whose name can be placed in nomination and under what circumstances and conditions, those can very much affect the outcome of the race. They could affect the outcome of who is the nominee. So they become very, very important, and even a lot of people who are very plugged into the process don’t necessarily know how everything is going to shape out. So, you know, that’s the Republicans.
Now the Democrats have a race that is simultaneously much more boring, but also much more interesting in a weird way, too. Hillary Clinton, barring something that places her in severe legal jeopardy with the email situation, is going to be the Democratic nominee. She has an insurmountable delegate lead, past by the large number of super delegates who are party leaders in the Democratic Party, who get to be delegates to the convention and who can vote for whoever they want, regardless of who won primaries and caucuses in their state or congressional districts.
But even among pledged delegates, Hillary Clinton has a lead that Bernie Sanders is unable to likely overtake. Democrats don’t have any winner-take-all states, so there’s no real easy way for him to make up the deficit, even if he piles up some wins in big states New York or California.
But Bernie Sanders is on a bit of a winning streak. So there is no real incentive for him to get out of the race, even though Hillary Clinton would like him to, at the very least, stop criticizing her, because she would like to give her attention to the general election. But Sanders has no incentive to do that, both because he’s winning in a lot of these predominantly white states and in a lot of the caucus states where he can out organize Hillary Clinton, and he is also still raising money. The big thing that gets candidates to drop out of their races is their donors. You know, the candidate often has a hard time deciding for themselves when it’s over, but your donors have a little bit more financial incentive to tell you when it’s over, so they do. And [in] Bernie Sanders’s case, his donors are not giving that much money per donor. They’re mostly small contributions, and they’re idealists so they don’t have much of a reason to tell him to drop out. And a lot of them still think he can win because he’s winning all these states. He might win Wisconsin tonight.
So there are all these sort of dynamics in play where Clinton wants to focus on the general, which she inevitably will get to barring, you know, something terrible happening legally, and Bernie Sanders won’t let her. So there’s less suspense, but that also could potentially have some general election impact because you have some of your younger and more enthusiastic Democrats who are unlikely to vote for another candidate. But do you retain that kind of enthusiasm?
The big question for the Democrats is: How do you maintain the level of enthusiasm some traditionally low-turnout voting blocs had for Barack Obama? And I think the answer for Hillary Clinton is hope that Donald Trump is the nominee and substitute enthusiasm for Barack Obama by way of fear of Donald Trump. And even if Trump is not the nominee, I think Hillary Clinton will attempt to continue to run against Donald Trump.
Secondarily, she is obviously going to run on the fact that she would be the first woman president, and hope that that generates a lot enthusiasm among female voters, which it probably would to some extent do and might do to a greater extant if she’s running against Donald Trump.
So with one party’s nomination process really still very much in flux, and the other party’s nomination process over but complicated and messy, we’re still looking at, I think, a very uncertain picture heading into November.
So, you know, Wisconsin tonight is very important on the Republican side. It gives Ted Cruz his best opportunity to really create a narrative that momentum is shifting away from Donald Trump. Given that we’re heading into New York where Trump has a very, very big lead, that may or may not be true, but narratives and expectations matter a lot in politics. This is really Cruz’s best shot to get into in an actual primary. He’s mostly beat Trump in caucuses or in states where you feel like he had everything going for him. This is a little bit more of a mixed state, even though he’s got a lot going for him here. So we’ll have to see what happens tonight.
Tooley: Thank you, Jim. Charmaine, could you go next?
Yoest: I would love to. Thanks so much for having me, Mark. This is really an interesting opportunity, particularly because it is Wisconsin primary day. … Tomorrow we know, one way or the other, the roads are going to diverge. Some of the polls coming out this morning do show Trump having an opportunity to still have a good showing in Wisconsin, so I think that’s fascinating because the last two weeks obviously have been a disaster for him.
So the thing that I find the most fascinating about his breakdown over the last ten days is that it very neatly coincides with the birth of his grandson and the corollary relative disappearance of Ivanka, not just from the campaign trail, but having had children myself, I can tell you she might have been just a little bit distracted over the last ten days.
And to me that really speaks volumes about both the way his campaign is being run, how he is being influenced, and also it speaks to the fact that this election is going to be largely driven by the female vote. And why do I say that? It’s because we’ve been paying a fair amount of attention to the most recent polling data which shows Donald Trump having 70 percent unfavorables among the entire electorate. But that drops down to, I want to say, roughly around 49 percent when you’re looking at just Republicans, which for right now, during this period, is what’s the really relevant time period.
If you shift your gaze and look over at Hillary, she’s also doing dramatically badly among women – really dramatically badly. And so Jim, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about this as we get into a conversation, but you know I don’t see how she sells the first woman president as a reason to vote for her later as we move into the general election better than she already has, and she hasn’t sold that. It’s really, really striking to me that she hasn’t been able to close that deal and to make that sale to American women. And frankly, I find it very gratifying because if there is one animating passion that I have about this election it is to deny her that particular accolade of being the first female president, because I dearly want to see it be someone who shares our values, and I believe ultimately it should be.
So that’s also why I come down in being a “hashtag never Hillary” person. I do believe that seeing her take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania would be absolutely devastating. I’ve called it publically Barack Obama’s third term. And some people have come back and said, “Well she’s her own person. She has her own agenda.” And I would say, “Yes, she does, and in fact it’s worse than his.”
She is even more ideological than he is, and particularly on issues that are near and dear to me, specifically the pro-life issue. She gets up every morning and thinks about how she can further entrench both a radical feminism and a very radical pro-abortion agenda ideology in the fabric of not just our laws but also in our culture.
So I do see this as being a very, very significant fight for the hearts and the minds of the American woman as we go into this summer. And so then the question does become: Which one of these candidates makes that argument better?
I do think it’s also interesting that after seeing an entire primary campaign up to this date where absolutely nothing could touch Donald Trump – nothing could touch Donald Trump – the two things that have really finally permeated his brand of Teflon is: one, the tweet where he attacked Heidi Cruz’s looks; and this brouhaha over Michelle Fields, both having to do with women. Kind of gratifying actually that the Heidi Cruz tweet was a challenge for him. I think it should have been, and so, you know, that speaks well of our reaction as a culture that that was reaching too far. Also, interestingly enough, the one thing that he felt like he had to finally come out and apologize for. He did it in a low key, soft, soft way. [He] didn’t make a big production out it. But he did come out and say he thought it was a mistake, which was pretty dramatic. If you look at—
Let’s set aside for the minute whether or not Cruz or Trump ends up getting the nomination. And I think even if we end up in an open convention that it ends up— I think Jim is right, I think Trump would have a tough time hanging on to it if he doesn’t win that first ballot. But I think it will be difficult to take it away from Cruz at that point, given that the fact that he’ll come in with a strong slate of delegates.
But if you look at making the pro-woman argument, we do actually have better spokespeople on our side than they do, given the fact that Hillary hasn’t sealed the deal in being a pro-woman mouthpiece, which, you know, when you think of Ivanka Trump, when you think of Heidi Cruz, when you think of Carly Fiorina, we actually do have some really good voices to start talking about what a conservative pro-woman agenda actually does look like.
I’d mentioned too, and I won’t talk about this a whole lot because I’m pretty certain that Mike is going to want to pick up this theme, but I think one of the more interesting questions, and I know this is something you wanted to get into Mark, is how Evangelicals are engaging with this election. Certainly we’ve seen some really interesting endorsements that have come out that have affected where people are kind of putting the Evangelical label. But I think an underreported story that is really dramatically significant when you talk about Evangelicals is the fact that there are different brands of Evangelicals and they’re lining up in very different ways in this election. You know, it’s kind of funny given that most of us in the room are Evangelicals that people do tend to – Actually I guess shouldn’t make that sweeping generalization, should I?
Cromartie: There’s a diverse group here, my friend.
Tooley: There are a few Catholics in the room, too.
Yoest: The minute I said that I looked over at my friend Bill Saunders and I thought, “You know, what am I saying?”
Cromartie: There’s more than Bill.
Yoest: More than Bill. Okay. I apologize to my Catholic and other brethren.
Cromartie: Classical Christian.
Yoest: Nice. I like it. I’ll take it, I’ll take it.
Cromartie: Mere Christian.
Yoest: Well, okay. But so that does make my point, doesn’t it? It’s that there are a lot of different brands of believers in our country. And the data that I’ve seen on how Evangelicals are breaking down in terms of their alignment, I’m going to bet, also carries over into Catholicism and other alignments. I’m just going to hazard a guess. I haven’t seen data on it. And the division on the Evangelical side goes, not surprisingly, along the lines of whether or not you go to church. And so, church-going Evangelicals are tending to line up with Cruz, and non-church-going Evangelicals are tending to line up with Trump, you know, our friend from Liberty notwithstanding. So that to me is a really interesting development and certainly will play out further along the way.
I’ll stop. I won’t talk more about that because I’m really guessing you are going to—
Cromartie: Yeah, and the first thing I want to say is that the definition of Evangelical is someone who is church-going. So if you’re a non-church-going Evangelical, you are not an Evangelical.
Now that was not my lead in, but there it was.
Yoest: I’m just here to set him up, and he can just—
Cromartie: I want to say thank you to Mark for inviting me. He sent me an email that says, “I’d like you to come to share some thoughts with the IRD board.” I go on the website and I familiarize myself with the IRD board, all eight or ten or twelve of you, and then I walk in the room and all of conservative Christendom is in the room. I thought I was going to be sitting around a little round table sharing my thoughts on what I’d like to label it, my talk, “The Evangelical Crackup,” or what I could also call “The Rise and Fall of the Christian Right”.
So thank you Mark for inviting me to your board and all your – I just assume everyone else here is not on the board but some of his million dollar donors. Delighted to meet you.
Look, every four years I say to my Evangelical friends who do not know about what the phrase “Christian realism” means that Christian realism comes from Reinhold Niebuhr but he got it from Augustine, and that is, that the world is fallen and that we have to be realistic about our goals. And I say to them every four years, “I know the guy that we got on our side is not your favorite, but compared to the other—”
Niebuhr always said politics is the art of making choices between relative goods and lesser evils. And they go, “Oh I hadn’t thought of that. Okay, now I can vote Romney or McCain or, you know, Bush Sr. over Dukakis.” I mean, I’ve used it.
I am now here to announce to you this doesn’t work anymore. If the candidates are Trump and Hillary, Niebuhr’s quote goes out the window. I see no good option between either one of them. Now, I know one or two of my friends on the panel will make an argument otherwise, but I don’t see how it holds up at all. And so I can’t use my Niebuhr quote anymore to convince some of you all who are ideological purists and ideologues who will not bend to, you know, the lesser of two evils. We got some really bad choices if this happens. And so my hope is the contested convention where he finally falls – caves and falls through the roof.
Did you all remember that about over twenties years ago a sociologist and a friend of our names James Davidson Hunter at the University of Virginia wrote a book called Culture Wars, where he described that there was a new culture war in American society between those who were orthodox in the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish community, conservatively orthodox religiously and morally and culturally, over against what he called a progressive coalition, which were people who were liberal Protestants, liberal Jews, and liberal Catholics, and that these two parts of American society were involved in a “culture war,” and they had two totally different worldviews, two different ways of looking at society and politics?
And the book was well known and popular and got a lot a discussion because it also helped claim the rise of what then was called the rise of the new Christian Right, that it was a response to what Nathan Glazer at Harvard called a defensive offensive, what was a prior imposition by liberal elites of values onto conservative religious communities, and the culture war was a response to liberal imposition. And after I read Hunter’s book and thought about it, I then went to a luncheon at AEI, the American Enterprise Institute, where I heard the renowned and wonderful public intellectual, the late Irving Kristol. And I went up to him after he gave this luncheon address, the keynote, and I said, “Irving, of course, you know there is this book called Culture Wars and there’s this thesis that we’re in a ‘culture war’.”
And he said, “Michael, there’s no culture war.”
“Really? What do you mean?”
He said, “There was one. But it’s over, and the other side won.”
Now that was over 20 years ago, and I was cold in my tracks. Because what we’re seeing now in our culture, Evangelicals and conservative Catholics and conservative Jews, we are losing in the culture. Witness Indiana. Witness the recent Georgia governor’s bill about a simple religious liberty piece of legislation. Business has now been won over to the other side of the culture war.
And now we have this situation where, even more tellingly, so-called Evangelicals who don’t go to church are going to vote for Donald Trump. And it’s utterly bizarre to me that when you look at the values and the commitments and the history of Donald Trump that anybody with any sense of – who had been to church twice a year, would consider voting for this man. It’s appalling to me.
And yet as other friends of mine have suggested that we saw these trends in our culture when the president of the United States was caught red handed having an affair in the Oval Office with an intern and the American culture and the American people said, “Okay, but enough is enough. Leave him alone. Don’t dare impeach him.”
So the slide began some time ago and now we’re seeing the fruits of it. Now the rise of the Christian Right also brought with it, as many of us know, Ronald Reagan and the Bushes and a huge voting bloc. But it also brought with it a kind of a bad reputation that many of us have felt was part of the leadership of the Christian Right was harsh. It was legalistic, it was pharisaical, it was self-righteous. It did not present itself well in the public arena.
And in the last six or seven or eight years, we’ve now had new leaders replace those old leaders so that there’s a new branding of Evangelicals in our society. Jim Daily has replaced Jim Dobson. There’s a new face to Focus on the Family. You could say that Tim Keller has replaced T. James Kennedy, and there’s a new face to conservative Protestantism. You could say that Rick Warren has replaced Jerry Falwell Sr. and there is a new look to Evangelicalism and a new branding.
Now that’s all out the window, ladies and gentlemen. When Jerry Falwell Jr. has the audacity to come out and endorse Donald Trump? When Robert Jefferies goes on and sells his soul every week on Fox News encouraging the candidacy of Donald Trump? If this is not a crackup, I don’t know what it is.
When somebody as smart and who has a seminary degree and has been a politician all his life like Mike Huckabee doesn’t endorse Donald Trump but does everything but endorse him, then we’re moving around in an insane world.
This is inexcusable, and I agree with the blogger Matt Walsh who wrote a couple weeks ago. Here are the names, ladies and gentlemen. We’re going to remember you Laura Ingraham. We’re going to remember you Ann Coulter. We’re going to remember you Sean Hannity. All of you people that elevated this man, shame on you. And shame on you Chris Christie, and shame you Newt Gingrich, and shame on you Mike Huckabee.
Now that’s not what Mark asked me to come talk about, but I’ve been wanting to say it for weeks now. This is my chance to preach to the floor of the IRD.
[Editor’s Note: Off the record section excluded from the transcript.]
Anyway, so in summary, my comments are these: We’re in a bad situation and I’ll conclude with this. However, I do believe in the reformed doctrine of Providence and the sovereignty of God, and that we all in this room know who the Lord of history is. And I say that all the time and I had to tell my wife recently, “I now have to own it!” Because this has been such a dizzying and depressing thing to see somebody like Trump who’s made at least 15 gaffs where we thought he was going to fall. And he hasn’t. And it’s caused many of us to be stunned. So we thank God that He’s in control of history. Amen.
Okay Fred. After all that preaching.
Barnes: Yeah, you did. I’m probably going to appall you.
Cromartie: Oh you already— Yeah, I know what you’re going to do.
Barnes: I’ll get to that in a minute. But we can see this tremendous impact that Donald Trump has had, not only on the agenda, the political agenda, on the Republican Party, on the Republican race, but on people like Mike as well who have become—
Cromartie: And a lot of people in this room.
Barnes: I know. I agree. Most of my friends are very passionately anti-Trump. I voted in the Virginia primary. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t agree with him on much of anything. I don’t agree with him on immigration. I don’t agree with him on trade. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I don’t agree with him on entitlements. I don’t agree with him on eminent domain. He does have a pretty good tax bill, but that’s about it. The question though is if Trump is the nominee and you don’t vote for him, what do you get? You get Hillary Clinton which would have a devastating impact on America.
And Trump, there’s at least a chance with him. But just look at the impact that Trump has had, I think, on the agenda for America, one I don’t agree with. But certainly it’s going to be very difficult to have any immigration reform without a wall or something close to it being built now. You look on trade treaties. They’ve been demonized so much by Trump, free trade treaties, that it’s going to be hard to do much on trade in the short run. And tinkering with trade can be devastating to the economy. You know, you can— We’re not all old enough to remember Smoot-Hawley, but when you start fiddling in protectionist ways it can be extremely harmful to the country.
When I was thinking on these earlier subjects as we were talking, you know, if it weren’t for Trump, we would be having a panel on religious liberty. And Charmaine and Mike, you would be here. James and I probably wouldn’t be here. There would be other people here. But with Trump, we’re talking about the Republican race. I think in the Republican race, the thing the think about now is when we get to after the first Tuesday in June, that’s when the primaries end. California ends and so on. But there’s what? Five weeks, six weeks or something like that before the convention begins and a lot can happen in that period. James mentioned that the delegates that other candidates have who are not particularly—
Marco Rubio has delegates committed to him, and he has not released them. Now Trump thinks of himself as a great negotiator. Well this will be a test. We know he can negotiate real estate deals. Beyond that it’s all guess work. But let’s see if he can negotiate with unpledged delegates, with candidates who are not in the race anymore but do have delegates pledged to them, and see what we wind up with. I think there’s a substantial chance that at the end of the primaries Trump will not have a majority of the delegates, but by the time the convention begins he could have. And, you know, politics is not science.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what Trump would do as president. I don’t know much of what he would do as a nominee, what he’d say, because he’s frequently not really in control of what he knows is better to do as a candidate.
At least he tells people about things. You know, he was telling — Who has he told? His riff now is that he can be presidential anytime he wants to. He just doesn’t want to be presidential yet. He thinks it’s not time for him to act presidential yet. Anyway.
So that’s what— I mean, there’s going to be that period where a lot is going to be going on after the primaries and before the convention. And it’s not hard for me to envision winding up with something like a ticket of Trump and Rubio with Rubio’s delegates going to Trump. People say, “Well they hate each other.” Of course they hate each other, but this is politics. It doesn’t make any difference how they feel about each other personally. I mean, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson hated each other and that worked out pretty well for them.
You know, I don’t know whether any of you all saw this or not. The best discussion of religion of any of the Republican candidates in the race was a video that somebody sent me, I don’t know who it was, about a five minute video of Marco Rubio. Did you see that one Mike?
Cromartie: I sent it to you.
Barnes: Well you sent it to me. That’s right, you did send it to me. Well I sent it to all kinds of people.
Cromartie: Where the atheist challenged him? The atheist challenged him. In Iowa. The video.
Barnes: Yeah, yeah. And it was the best explanation of someone’s faith and understanding of it that I heard from any candidate I’ve ever heard, from a candidate for president or any other office for that matter. It was absolutely fantastic. I sent it to—I was stunned by it. I had no idea that Marco Rubio had such a strong faith and could explain it so well. Now maybe others can but—
Cromartie: History of Christian Doctrine 101. He just went through the whole—
Barnes: Yeah, yeah. It was fabulous. And I sent it to many people who were all very impressed with it. I guess, who was he speaking to? He was speaking to some Iowa preachers, right?
Cromartie: Yeah, there was a couple. One was Iowa preachers, and then in another one an atheist challenged him in the audience in Iowa and said, “Sir, would my rights be violated if you’re elected because we know you’re motivated by your faith?”
And he said, “Yes and let me tell you what my faith does. My faith allows me to say to you, you have the freedom and the right to not believe what I believe. And you need to hold me accountable if I don’t do that for you.” It was wonderful.
Barnes: Yeah, if you haven’t seen it, get Mike to send it to you. It really was good. What was I going to wind up with here?
You know, there are a lot of people who don’t like Trump at all, who don’t necessarily think that it’s outside of a possibility that they could — They don’t feel they have to morally reject Donald Trump considering his opponent. And there are people who believe that, and Mike is one of those and heaven knows I know a lot of them, that believe that Trump is just not acceptable. “We can’t vote for him.” They would rather not vote. Some say they would vote for Hillary Clinton. And others are in favor of a third candidate running, a conservative candidate running in the race, someone who probably can’t win, but would be a place where you could make an honest vote that you would feel better about anyway.
And I’m not necessarily against that.
But my view is basically: What makes a vote for Trump entertainable is the fact of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton would have such a devastating effect on America, on the Supreme Court, on the morality of America, on — You talk about the culture war. Well there’s still some being fought, and that would be crushed. On everything that Obama has done, everything would be locked in place forever. ObamaCare we’d never get rid of. Every one of the presidential orders and memoranda and so on that he signed, she would ratify. And on some of them, she would go further; at least she said that about immigration. And on and on and on. It would be incredibly devastating.
My overall view of the race though is this. Everybody in my family except for one, and I have grown daughters and husbands and so on, and we all voted in the Virginia primary. I think we all voted for Marco Rubio: one, because of that video; and two, which is so important, and that is that he had the best chance of any Republican to win in the general election. He could attract Hispanic votes. He had a broad base. Look, I know, you’ve got to win the nomination. But anyway, that seemed to be something that— It’s traditionally not something that voters base their vote on. They don’t vote strategically. Now maybe they should. And I thought they should, but they usually don’t. But I thought Marco Rubio had the best chance.
Now, I hate to admit it, but I think John Kasich has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton. He can be very off-putting, even when he talks about his faith. The polls sometime lie, but they’ve been pretty consistent on Kasich. He does have a broader base. He’s done a pretty good job as a governor in Ohio. He just can’t win the Republican nomination. So I think Republicans are stuck in this situation where Republicans are probably going to wind up with candidate who can’t win. Again.
Tooley: Any questions?
Cromartie: Richard Hyde.
Audience Question: Mike, I thought your presentation was fabulous. Now just for those of us who might need the remediation here, could you give us “Why Donald Trump Is So Unacceptable 101” for anyone who doesn’t—? Because you haven’t actually explained that much. And I agree with you, so would you just go over it again for us?
Cromartie: Oh I see. Okay, the first one. The very first one before I go into all his extensive character flaws. I’ll begin with this: He’s entirely unelectable. Fred is right. Sometimes polls lie, but most of the time they don’t, and he’s going to get annihilated. So I think it’s a wasted vote to vote the other way and I think it’s a wasted vote to vote for him. He cannot win the country.
Number two, I just don’t think that a sexist, racist, demagogic, misogynist, woman hater, anti-immigrant person who shows none of the fruits of the Spirit and calls himself a Christian but puts his money in the communion plate when it comes around and then says he’s never had to ask God for forgiveness. I don’t vote on candidates based on their rigorous theology, but I’d like for them to know at least one thing. And it’s so clear that his own personal profession of faith is totally calculated. Totally.
Now look, I believe as much as anybody in this room in the grace of God transforming anybody anytime, and I’ll be glad for God to transform Donald Trump after the election personally. But right now, I just think that somebody who makes fun of reporters who are disabled in front of them, who has this attitude toward other races, other ethnicities, other genders, that’s so obviously off-putting, I cannot understand how that kind of person—
And then here’s the next one. And then when he’s interviewed by anybody and is asked any question more than an inch deep, a question on foreign policy, and knows nothing, and when is pressed by Anderson Cooper on any question filibusters by wandering off on other topics. I mean, the man doesn’t know anything. And the other problem with that is we all know candidates who know only a little, but we like them. We also know they know what they don’t know and they’ll surround themselves with really good people. I don’t get the impression this man wants to listen to anyone either. So, on all those counts Richard, if you know more I’ve got a list, but that’s my beginning.
Audience Member: I’d like to compare lists.
Cromartie: Yeah. Yes, gentlemen. I’ll be — Do you want me to be moderator? I’ve done it before.
Tooley: You be the moderator.
Cromartie: Yes, Andrew. Run it away, buddy.
Audience Member: What do you all think of Cruz? I mean, he’s the one that hasn’t really been talked about in general election. I guess that’s one prospect. I mean, Fred has talked about that possibility.
Cromartie: I don’t think he could win, either.
Antle: I don’t, either. I think the fact that he’s not consistently done well with the groups that he was supposed to do well [with] in Republican primaries undercuts his entire strategy for winning the general election, or at least his stated strategy. Maybe he secretly has another one. We should hope that he does.
Cruz has essentially said that he is going to run the Bush 2004 reelection on steroids, and he is going to drive out the conservative base and that that will outnumber the liberal base and he will win, albeit probably narrowly. The problem with that is that has not worked in Republican primaries. He is losing Republican primaries to a candidate who is, by all conventional measures, to his left and he is not doing well enough among the core groups of conservative voters.
I mean, basically he’s in the race because he sometimes wins the states that he’s supposed to win and he sometimes wins the voters he’s supposed to win. If he is going to win the general election, he has to win all of those states and all of those voters. It’s very hard to see how he does that.
Maybe, Trump will make Cruz look like a moderate, and the country will sigh this huge sigh of relief if he comes out of the convention that maybe they wouldn’t have sighed if he’d beaten Marco Rubio or John Kasich. I don’t know. That seems like a lot to bet on though.
Cromartie: Fred, what’s your experience?
Barnes: With Cruz?
Barnes: You know, I’ve talked to him a few times. I don’t know him very well. It is very telling though that a guy who is supposed to be gathering all the leaders on the right behind his campaign is now amassed a grand total of two of his fellow senators who have endorsed him. Two. And that’s not very many. I think that’s very telling. I’ve talked to you about this before Mike, I think, but I know people who he has tried to court—
Cromartie: You don’t have to mention names, but do tell the anecdote, please.
Barnes: He has tried to court people in journalism at higher levels than the rest of us who have spent a lot of time with Cruz at Cruz’s request and wound up disliking him heartily. So there’s something strange about him that, you know, I pretty much agree with him on everything, and yet—well not on immigration, but on other things—and yet he’s so off-putting. I’m not rooting against him, but he’s hard to warm up to, I’ll tell you.
Audience Member: Follow up on that. So all of that given, he would be running against Hillary, who seems particularly weak. So do you still think he can’t win when in fact if Hillary is running such a weak campaign now and seems to be destined to run a weak campaign in the general?
Barnes: She has a united party though, which the Republicans are certainly not united. If Trump were the nominee, they would certainly be disunited, but to a much lesser extent if Cruz [was the nominee], I think. With Cruz, I don’t know. Can you imagine him moving to the center or at least trying to dominate the center in politics? You need to do that to win, particularly now, I think anyway. And so I just don’t think he can win. James described very well his weaknesses in the primaries, where actually Cruz would be the first to admit that it hasn’t gone the way he had planned it all because of Trump, but—
Cromartie: Well let me make a case that I’ve never made before but I’ll now make here for Cruz on this point.
Barnes: You’ll have to say more than he’s not Trump.
Cromartie: And I mean that. And what I mean to say is that one reason why he might not have done well in those states where the cultural conservative vote he thought was totally his is that he had to share it with Rubio, and he had to share it Kasich, and he had to share it with Carley, and he had to share it with so many others. And so in one sense while I totally agree with everything that you’ve said that you got to win more than just that one constituency, you’ve got to win these other parts. My colleague Henry Olsen says there are four strands of the Republican Party that you’ve got to pull together, and only one of them is Evangelical/cultural conservative strand. And what you’re arguing is that he didn’t even win that strand. But one part of the reason he didn’t win that strand was because he had to share it with other people.
Barnes: Yeah, but he also shared it with Trump.
Cromartie: Yeah, that’s pretty depressing.
Yoest: He did also show up in North Dakota with a slate of candidates, too, and had a much better operation than anybody else did, which surprised me a little bit.
Cromartie: Yeah, North Dakota, one of those pivotal states.
Yoest: Maybe not particularly pivotal, but coming at a particularly important and crucial juncture and, you know, showing that this far down the stretch he was able to pay attention to basics and blocking and tackling in a way the others were not.
Antle: He has the best organization by far of any of the candidates running. That’s why he’s still around.
Cromartie: There was a hand in the back. Mark, yeah there in the back.
Audience Member: I’m in back. So the Good Book says, “For the hope that was set before him Christ endured the cross,” right? So looking at worst case scenarios, Hillary is president. What’s the hope after that? What do we do? What’s the cost of a Hillary president? What do we do afterwards? What’s the cost of a Trump presidency? What do we do afterwards to recover? And then if I could sneak another question in: With Cruz’s inelectability, what if Carly is VP or what if someone down ticket from him is more electable? So what’s the hope?
Yoest: Well, I mean, everyone woke up in despair after Barack Obama was elected and we particularly in the pro-life movement because he has been the most pro-abortion president that we ever had in our history. So, you know, I’m not going to deny that he has— I said I think it would be a disaster for us to see a third term and to entrench the gains he achieved.
But at the same time, we have seen a lot of gains on our side as well. We have seen a tidal wave of pro-life legislation across the country and a real invigoration of a conservative response to the liberal agenda. So there’s to me— I’m always going to be the one that comes back and says that the empire is going to fight back and there is hope on our side. Having said that, I do think that we do have to be really realistic about what a second administration would look like.
Tooley: Maybe time for two more questions.
Barnes: You know with Hillary, all her worst left-wing instincts would be ratified and pushed by Democrats in Congress. It’s a very left-wing party. Very different from the one when her husband was president. Very different. On the other hand if Trump were president, the Republicans in Congress would have a majority—[they] would be pushing against at least some of the things he has talked about in this campaign. How many of them he would carry with him into office I don’t know, and I guess I haven’t thought about it much because I don’t think that he’ll ever get there. But anyway.
Yoest: Can I just throw this in?
Cromartie: Yeah, yeah. Please. And then we’ll get you next.
Yoest: Because you and I do disagree on this. I mean, to me, you have this vision of we’ve lived through eight years of we can’t pass anything. You have that presidential veto that is an absolute block and with Hillary you just go straight, you continue on, and it’s an entrenchment. It’s an entrenchment. At least with Trump, you have someone who would sign our legislation.
Antle: I would also say even though there are all the negatives that you mentioned associated with social conservative support for Trump, one silver lining is the only part of the conservative coalition that Trump has felt the need to consistently pay lip service to is Evangelicals and social conservatives. I mean, he signed a tax plan that’s pretty conservative. There’s no evidence he’s ever read it. He knows Larry Kudlow likes it and hailed it. That’s the only thing I’ve ever heard him actually say about it. He has pretty consistently— I mean, he’s waffled on abortion, but he has, other than that, pretty consistently tried to appeal to Evangelicals. Ham-fistedly. Ineptly. Insincerely. But he’s done it, whereas lots of other parts of the conservative coalition, he has been very happy to tell them, “No, I’m not going to do what you say. Sorry.”
Cromartie: Okay, right here.
Audience Member: So where do you guys see the battle especially for religious liberty, what we would be talking about if it weren’t for Trump, going into the future under a Hillary presidency; or, God forbid a Trump presidency; or, you know, if it is at all possible, a Cruz presidency?
Antle: I think Trump has benefited from the fact that even a lot of social conservatives believe that the culture war is lost, and they are now looking for a tough guy who might protect them. So they are no longer looking for a Christian. They’re looking for a friendly Roman, and they see in Trump that Roman. A talking point I hear Trump use a lot—
Cromartie: A friendly Roman. I love that.
Antle: Trump will say, “Yes, I’m a strong Christian,” and this and that and the other thing. But for the most part, he doesn’t pretend that too hard. The talking point I hear him make the most is, “I will protect the Evangelicals.” So calling them “the Evangelicals” implies he doesn’t really view himself as one. But he also understands that “the Evangelicals” see themselves as under siege and he is not going to be part of who is besieging them. Or at least he says he’s not.
And he also makes an argument for Christian cultural preeminence, which even a lot of now non-practicing Christians are concerned about. They’ve lost a sort of cultural preeminence that we once had. You know, if you’re old enough to remember the “All in the Family” sitcom, Archie Bunker was always making these religious pronouncements and was very upset about, you know, minority religions getting more recognition in society. But he sent his wife to church every Sunday. He didn’t go. He reminds me a little bit of the Donald Trump.
Cromartie: That’s a good answer right there. And I think on that Mark—
Fred would like to add anything?
Barnes: No, no. That was good.
Tooley: All right, great talk. Thanks so much.