Over at The Atlantic, McKay Coppins has a report on how President Donald Trump talks about his evangelical supporters and allies when they’re not around. Though white evangelicals make up Trump’s most loyal voting base, Trump’s comments about their beliefs are marked by “cynicism and contempt,” writes McKay, according to numerous aides and former employees.
“They’re all hustlers,” he said of evangelical leaders, according to Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen. Coppins says people who worked for Trump heard him “ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base.”
A White House spokesperson responded to the report by saying that, “people of faith know that President Trump is a champion for religious liberty and the sanctity of life, and he has taken strong actions to support them and protect their freedom to worship. The president is also well known for joking and his terrific sense of humor, which he shares with people of all faiths.”
That’s not exactly a denial, and seems to acknowledge an unspoken bargain many Christian voters have made with Trump: They’ll tolerate his indefensible language, rhetoric and actions as long as he delivers on policy wins and Supreme Court Justice nominees like Amy Coney Barrett. In fact, The Atlantic obtained a recording of Trump meeting with evangelical leaders like Eric Metaxas, Robert Jeffress and Wayne Grudem in which Trump openly acknowledged his lack of familiarity with prayer and the Bible and boasted about a new disparaging nickname for Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who’s criticized Trump in the past.
While some evangelical leaders may be aware that they’ve entered into what Coppins calls a Faustian bargain with Trump, their followers may be of a different opinion. Pew says that white evangelicals are twice as likely as other Americans to see the President as religious.
For his part, Coppins says, Trump at least admires the business savvy of some evangelical leaders with a “game-recognizes-game appreciation for their hustle.” Coppins says that aides told him Trump was impressed by the “racket” ran by men like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn, who’ve amassed successful media empires through their preaching.
Not everyone who talked to Coppins went in anonymous. A. J. Delgado, who worked Trump’s 2016 campaign, told Coppins that Trump is “not a religious guy.” The President’s niece Mary Trump told him that, “Whenever I see a picture of him standing in a group of pastors, all of their hands on him, I see a thought bubble [with] the words ‘What suckers.'”
You can read The Atlantic’s full report here.