A few days ago, which is to say an eternity in our Trump-dilated time, there was a story on NPR about anxious evangelicals’ seeking a meeting with the president.
The subject of their agita, not entirely surprisingly, was the Stormy Daniels affair, in which the president’s lawyer-fixer, Michael Cohen, appears to have averted a possible October surprise by buying the silence of a porn star (and perhaps more than one) with whom Donald Trump committed adultery shortly after the birth of his third wife’s only son.
But the prominent evangelicals seeking the meeting were apparently less concerned about the adultery than about the political ramifications — low religious-right turnout in 2018, a defeat for Republicans, and from there defeats on the policy issues that forced religious conservatives to make their peace with Trump in the first place.
The sudden investigatory focus on Cohen and Daniels might turn out to be a legal tempest in a D-cup. But still, for evangelicals concerned that their agenda is yoked so closely to the fortunes of that Hefnerian president, this seems like a good time to contemplate a simple question: Why not Mike Pence?
In the 2016 election, once Marco Rubio was defeated and Ted Cruz dispatched, religious conservatives faced a binary choice: Vote Trump or get Hillary.
But the politics of the coming year, once the Robert Mueller investigation delivers whatever it’s going to deliver, might offer a very different choice. If Trump were impeached, the presidency would devolve to precisely the kind of man whom much of pre-Trump religious conservatism insisted that it wanted in the Oval Office: an evangelical Christian family man with a bluenose’s temperament and a boring Reaganite checklist of beliefs.
Lots of Republicans who once resisted the Trumpian takeover have now accepted the various narratives that cast him as an indispensable man — because he’s the only Republican who knows how to fight, because his removal would be a victory for the hated establishment and the even more hated media and the many-tentacled Deep State, because whatever else happens you can’t let the liberals win. And evangelicals have their particular version of these Trump-the-indispensable conceits, from the analogies to King David (who slept around a lot, too, didn’t he?) to the widespread belief that Trump’s repeated against-the-odds victories mean that Providence somehow chose him for this role — and whom God has elevated, let no man impeach.
There is no way of knowing exactly what would have happened, of course, had Bill Clinton been pushed out by Senate Democrats and Al Gore installed in his place. But there are good reasons to suspect that as an incumbent steward of late-1990s prosperity untainted by his steadfast support for a lying boss, Gore would have had an easier time dispatching George W. Bush in 2000, and the entire trajectory of the early 2000s would have been more favorable to Democrats. And there are also good reasons to think that professional feminists, who contorted themselves absurdly in defense of Clinton’s predatory conduct, would have been better off accelerating their reckoning with the pigs of liberalism rather than waiting for the age of Trump and the old age of Harvey Weinstein.
Plus, there’s the providential aspect. Sure, making use of Donald Trump to keep Hillary Clinton from being president is a fascinating flourish by history’s Author, but the idea that the Almighty might use a porn star to make Mike Pence president represents, if anything, an even more amazing miracle.