WASHINGTON — Evangelical leader Michael Cromartie asserted Tuesday that it is "inexcusable" that prominent evangelical leaders like megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. have thrown the "new branding" of the Christian Right "out the window" by supporting Donald Trump for president.
Cromartie, the vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of its Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs, participated in a lunch discussion at the University Club of Washington, D.C. hosted by the Institute on Religion & Democracy that focused on "evangelicals, Trump and 2016 presidential politics."
In addressing the idea that America is in the midst of a "culture war," with conservatives losing, Cromartie explained that the Christian Right has benefited over the last decade from the rise of new Christian leaders to replace other conservative leaders who did not "present" the goals of the Christian Right well in the public arena.
Leaders like Jim Daly, Tim Keller and Rick Warren have replaced leaders like James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell Sr, Cromartie noted. This transition helped create a "new branding" for conservative Christians in America. But this progress the religious right has made has been undone because prominent evangelicals like Jeffress, Falwell and former 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee have either endorsed Trump or are staunchly defending the real estate mogul.
"In the last six or seven or eight years, we now have new leaders to replace those leaders, so that it's a new branding of evangelicals in our society," Cromartie stated. "Now, that is all out the window, ladies and gentleman, when Jerry Falwell Jr. has the audacity to come out and endorse Donald Trump, when Robert Jeffress goes on and sells his soul every week on Fox News, encouraging the candidacy of Donald Trump."
"If this is not a crack up, I don't know what it is," Cromartie continued.
Although Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, has not publicly endorsed Trump, Cromartie argued that he is as much to blame because he has defended Trump against critics.
In a Newsmax interview in March, Huckabee stated that Donald Trump's predominance in the GOP race is "nothing less" than a "peaceful overthrow" of the government. In an appearance at Georgetown University, Huckabee stated that he is "outraged" by Republicans promising not to vote for Trump if he wins the GOP nomination.
"When somebody is smart and has a seminary degree and has been a politician all his life like Mike Huckabee and doesn't endorse Donald Trump but does everything but endorse Donald Trump, then we are moving around in an insane world," Cromartie said. "This is inexcusable."
Cromartie praised the work of conservative blogger Matt Walsh, who wrote a piece in mid-March titled "Let's Remember The Cowardly Conservative Leaders Who Betrayed Us For Trump."
The article called out Falwell, Jeffress, Huckabee, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Fox News, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter.
"We are going to remember you Laura Ingraham. We are going to remember you Ann Coulter. We are going to remember you Sean Hannity," Cromartie said. "All of you people that elevated this man — shame on you. Shame on you Chris Christie. Shame on you Newt Gingrich and shame on you Mike Huckabee."
Later in the discussion, Cromartie was asked to list the reasons why he believes Trump is an unacceptable candidate for churchgoing evangelicals. Cromartie listed several reasons, including Trump's attitude toward women, immigrants and other ethnicities. He also pointed out Trump's tenacity for dodging questions on subjects he knows little about, like foreign policy. While Cromartie doesn't expect presidents to be experts on every topic, he noted that Trump doesn't even seek advice from experts on topics he doesn't understand.
Although Trump professes to be a Presbyterian, Cromartie believes that Trump's "profession of faith is totally calculated" and that he "shows none of the fruits of the spirit."
"[He] calls himself a Christian and puts money in the communion plate and then says he has never had to ask God for forgiveness," Cromartie said. "I don't vote on candidates based on their rigorous theology, but I would like them to know at least one thing."