During Wednesday's Morning Joe, the panel interviewed New York Times contributing opinion writer Pete Wehner, who wrote a book entitled The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Fractured Republic After Trump and the conversation focused on evangelicals’ support for President Trump. Not surprisingly, it did not long for those on-set to start accusing the evangelicals who support President Trump of subscribing to a “robotic mindset” and condemning their support for a President who traffics in “cruelty and dehumanization.”
Wehner attempted to convince the audience that he understood why such a large number of evangelicals voted for President Trump in 2016: “I appreciate the fact they they’re conservatives and they felt like his agenda was better.” Wehner then took aim at them, claiming “they’ve degraded themselves and the movement so badly.”
Co-host and Trump friend-turned-enemy Joe Scarborough went on to trash evangelicals for their “robotic mindset following, where everything they grew up reading in the gospels now does not apply to their life since a guy named Donald Trump got into politics.”
Wehner mocked the idea he claimed many evangelicals subscribe to, that “if a Democrat wins the White House, if Democrats win control of Congress, that the country they love will be lost, the faith will be destroyed, and that is creating a lot of very, very dangerous sensibilities and actions.”
Later, Wehner expressed his excitement about Trump's low poll numbers, describing President Trump’s low poll numbers as a sign of “people trying to take back the country they love.” He was likely referring to the poll numbers reflected in a new Quinnipiac University poll showing Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden beating President Trump in a national head-to-head matchup.
Wehner’s commentary should not have come as that much of a surprise. Exactly one year ago, Wehner appeared on MSNBC and accused evangelical Republicans of “selling their soul for judges.” During an MSNBC hist last year, he slammed Republicans for supporting a “Nietzschean and a person who believes that might makes right.”
All told, maybe these two have failed to notice that the left has adopted policy positions openly hostile to religion; from expressing a desire to repeal the Hyde Amendment to harassing a Christian baker for his religious beliefs. And therefore, evangelicals won't be rushing to support politicians who support these “very, very dangerous sensibilities and actions.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Wednesday’s edition of Morning Joe is below. Click “expand” to read more.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Joining us now, New York Times contributing opinion writer Pete Wehner. He is author of the new book, “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Fractured Republic After Trump.” Also with us, columnist and deputy editorial page editor at The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: So Pete, thanks so much for being with us. Your book is fascinating…
PETER WEHNER: Thanks.
SCARBOROUGH: …certainly fascinating to me because like myself, you grew up a conservative…
SCARBOROUGH: …a Republican, an evangelical. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church. And yet so many people who not only who I grew up with but also who helped get me elected four times…
SCARBOROUGH: …pretty, pretty easily because of their support, now support a President who I believe has not only done damage to the Republican Party and the conservative movement but also to the church.
PETER WEHNER: Yeah, I agree. I think that the damage that Donald Trump has done and that his supporters, in being such ferocious defenders of him have done to the civic and cultural fabric of the country is, is enormous. And evangelicals, of all the people who have rallied for support of Donald Trump, the evangelicals are to me the most heartbreaking. Not because I didn’t understand their decision, I, I appreciate the fact they they’re conservatives and they felt like his agenda was better, but the fact that they’re his sword and his shield and that they’ve degraded themselves and the movement so badly in this has, has been a very, very difficult thing, and it’s a warning of what can happen in politics when it goes wrong. I’ve got a chapter in the book on faith and politics on what’s gone wrong, but also what we have to do to, to, to make it right.
SCARBOROUGH: When, you know, two people that unfortunately seem to typify the, the views and the…I think, unfortunately, the, the lost direction of many evangelical leaders are the sons of Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.
WEHNER: That’s exactly right.
SCARBOROUGH: It is, it is, it is breathtaking the hypocrisy of what they say today compared to what they were saying in 1999 when Bill Clinton was not morally fit to even walk into the Oval Office, according to them.
WEHNER: Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. I mean, they took 2x4s against Bill Clinton. Back then, character mattered. Today it, it doesn’t. So, there’s the hypocrisy, but it’s, it’s even beyond that, Joe. It’s the fact that they’re standing for a person who is an embodiment of a kind of cruelty and dehumanization that we’ve never really seen in a President before. And to have the evangelical movement, followers of Jesus, proclaimed followers of Jesus, to act that way and to, to rally around a man who not only doesn’t stand for a Christian ethic, but for a Nietzschean ethic; for might makes right. The will to power is a stunning thing to see and they seem blind to it. Whether they are deep in their hearts or not, I don’t, I don’t know, but it is a, it is a cautionary tale about the temptations of, of power and what it can do to people and what it can do to a movement. A movement, by the way, which over the history of the country, has done great goods. Some of the great movements, the anti-slavery movement, the anti-segregation movement, were, were movements that were born in, in Christian churches and, and given so much moral power. Martin Luther King Jr. is one example. There are a lot of others.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Pete, I, I told this story to some friends. I’m not sure if I said it on TV, but in my mother’s funeral, there was somebody that I grew up with in First Baptist Church of Pensacola who while I’m shaking hands with people who were consoling me because of the loss of my mother, this person said to me that they were praying for my soul, that I had lost my soul. And I said, oh really, why, why do you say that? They said because you’re critical of Donald Trump. And I…I was so shocked because, first of all, to do that, to do that at my mother’s funeral from an old friend, but secondly, I just said to her, I said, poor thing. I’m praying for your soul. Have you not read the beatitudes lately?
SCARBOROUGH: Have you not read the “Sermon on the Mount?” Go through every one of those beatitudes and tell me one that applies to Donald Trump.
SCARBOROUGH: And just a blank stare. But it’s this, almost this robotic…
SCARBOROUGH: …mindset following where everything that they grew up reading in the gospels now does not apply to their life since a guy named Donald Trump got into politics.
WEHNER: Yeah, it’s a great point and it’s a powerful anecdote. I’ve had my own versions and variations of that; very close friends of mine who have basically told me that they’re worried that I am disgracing the gospel because of the criticisms of…
SCARBOROUGH: Oh my God.
WEHNER: …of, of evangelicals. I’ll tell you what it’s a symptom of, I think, Joe, and you’ve probably have experienced this, too. It’s…one is it’s a sense of a lot of fear that the evangelical, a lot of the evangelicals have which is transformed into anger and, and grievance. And it’s also a sense that I’ve heard from a lot of people, some variation, some Christian, some not, but they’re supporters of Trump. And it is that they believe this is an existential and apocalyptic struggle; that they believe that if a Democrat wins the White House, if Democrats win control of, of Congress, that the country they love will be lost, the faith will be destroyed, and that is creating a lot of very, very dangerous sensibilities and actions. And, you know, if you believe that’s the stakes and the struggle, you, you make deals with, with the devil to defeat Satan, that is so wrong-headed, but I think that explains some of what’s going on. I try and deal with that in the book.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, and you know, Willie, I, I certainly understand…what Pete just said, we grew up, our parents grew up believing in the late ‘60s and the ‘70s that our culture was under siege, our faith was under siege, our political beliefs were under siege, America was under siege, and that, that really is what shaped so many of our lives as we were growing up. But, you know, Jim Geraghty in the National Review said, boy, for a faith under siege, America sure is funny. Abortions at record low, divorce rates plummeting like never before, and 70 percent of Americans identifying themselves as a Christian. For a Christian nation under siege, that certainly is an interesting state of affairs.
WILLIE GEIST: Kind of a lame siege, isn’t it? As you...
GEIST: As you and Pete have been…
SCARBOROUGH: They’re losing.
GEIST: As you and Pete have been talking, I’ve been thinking about a line that you and I have both have heard a lot over the last couple of years from evangelical friends who say, look, we elected a President, not a saint, we’re willing to sort of look the other way and swallow some of the things we’ve seen out of Donald Trump, a guy who under any other circumstances if he weren’t Donald Trump, if he weren’t a Republican, we would be appalled by his behavior, publicly and privately, based on what we know about his having affairs and…with porn stars and everything else. But I’m curious, Pete, as I look at the title of your book, “How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump,” I think, as I’ve said to you, it’s if not the core question of our time, one of the core questions, when Donald Trump leaves the White House in a couple of years or in six years, whenever that is, how do we stitch it back together? How do we get the people who have been fighting in their corners now for four years to come back together in some way and continue to be America together?
WEHNER: Yeah, it’s a great question, Willie, and it’s one that I’ve heard from, from a lot of different people and maybe it is the central question, political question that we face and I try and untangle that in, in the book. I’ll tell you what I think is part of the answer. I believe that sometimes viruses create their own antibodies, and sometimes in the life of an individual, in the life of a country, there are certain virtues and qualities that you take for granted, that when they’re stripped from you, you all of a sudden realize why you cherished them to begin with and why they’re important. And then you begin to fight for them and make the case for them. And I think that is ultimately what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to figure out for ourselves that politics matters. If you love your country, you can’t have for…contempt for politics and part of what politics is about is how we engage with one another, how we treat with one, one another, right now this is an age of anger, of rage, of tribalism, of animosity, but we have it within our power to change that. The whole history of America is a history of movements and counter-movements, of setbacks and steps forward. We’ve had harder times in America. Jon Meacham were talking earlier about, about the great historian reminds us. I mean, we had the Election of 1800, which nearly tore the, the republic apart when, when Jefferson and Adams, we had the Civil War, we had the late 1960s and early 1970s. There have been harder times in America. We need political leadership to rise up but we have to take on the mantle of citizenship. One thing that Joe knows probably better than any of us is the political system ultimately is responsive to the people to what the people want.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh yeah.
WEHNER: And if the people, enough people…one person acting alone can’t do much. But a lot of people acting together create a culture, a political culture and a civic culture and I will say that…very quickly, the fact that Donald Trump is as low in the polls as he is given the economic conditions is a sign that people are pushing back, and I see a lot of signs of, of people trying to take back the country they love.