If there was any doubt that the religious right has sold its soul to Donald Trump, it should have been erased when a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed Trump’s support among white evangelicals surging to an all-time high of 75 percent. This comes despite the almost daily outrages coming from this White House, as well as the growing rank odor surrounding his affair with Stormy Daniels. But wait a minute. Bill Clinton was effectively lynched for a similar sin two decades earlier–largely because of constant harping by the religious right.
That’s what makes a recent statement from a prominent religious right leader hard to understand. He thinks that evangelicals, and the nation at large, shouldn’t pitch a fit over Trump’s affair with Daniels, or the effort to keep her from telling about it. Why? Wait for it–we all sin, just like Trump.
If you follow the religious right for any period of time, you’ve probably heard about Matt Barber, a longtime field general in the empire built by the late Jerry Falwell. He was the longtime associate dean of the law school at Falwell’s Liberty University, and now serves as vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, one of the linear descendants of Moral Majority. He is also one of the top lawyers at the Falwell empire’s law firm, Liberty Counsel. When Barber talks, social conservatives listen.
On Thursday, Barber sat in for Bryan Fischer on American Family Radio’s afternoon show, “Focal Point.” He had a, shall we say, novel take on the Daniels affair. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Barber conceded that Trump was “no Boy Scout.” However, he believed that as a Christian man, he was “not in any position to justify any of his past sexual shenanigans”–and no one else should either, since we all sin.
He then claimed that the $130,000 payment was no different from any other settlement that is reached “in court and out of court” between parties all the time. For that reason, Barber claimed, that payment “had nothing to do with the Trump campaign,” but was part of “the regular course of business.” What about the reports that Trump reimbursed longtime fixer Michael Cohen for that money? Barber claimed that Trump was merely refilling the coffers from a trust fund set aside for his defense expenses.
With all due respect, Matt, what happened here wasn’t just a sin. Based on what has come out in recent days, it involves unethical and potentially criminal conduct. There is no way to credibly deny that the payment was intended to keep Daniels from hurting Trump’s election chances. That makes the payment an in-kind donation to the Trump campaign–one that should have been disclosed, and wasn’t. Indeed, Daniels wants the non-disclosure agreement thrown out in part because it was an end run around campaign finance law.
And if you accept the current line from the Trump camp–that Cohen arranged the payment himself, and Trump unwittingly reimbursed him for it–then Cohen at the very least breached New York state bar rules that not only forbid lawyers from offering financial assistance, but require lawyers to keep their clients informed.
So just like Franklin Graham, Barber misses the point, and badly. It’s not the affair that’s the issue. It’s the attempt to cover it up–and therefore protect Trump’s election chances.
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