Washington D.C.—On Friday afternoon, anthropomorphic lie Donald Trump took the stage at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, an annual conference held by and for the most fervently anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-Jesus voters, and managed to not mention abortion or LGBT people a single time.
Trump has shown himself to be a lot of things—a greedy tangerine obsessed with dotting the United States with massively engorged models of his own dick, an unchecked egomaniac obsessed with the sound of his own voice, a racist xenophobe who has remarkably little knowledge about foreign affairs for an aspiring politician (but perhaps the amount we’d expect of someone voting Trump-Pence in 2016). But at least he was okay with gay people and premarital sex.
Trump is, at his core, a valueless opportunist. Still, at least a portion of Trump’s base has supported their candidate because he was, somehow, a Republican and same-sex marriage supporter at the same time. Although his speech on Friday afternoon didn’t explicitly counter that idea, his presence at the conference should.
The afternoon session began with a short speech from David and Jason Benham, two thick-necked would-be reality television show personalities-turned evangelical golden boys, who earned notoriety when their HGTV show, “Flip It Forward” was canceled after Right Wing Watch posted a recording of David speaking about “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” The brothers spoke vaguely about the difference between being asleep and awake (but not woke), and suggested that God-abiding Christians couldn’t get herpes. They were followed by a passionate Michelle Bachmann, a sleepy Reince Priebus, and a surprise appearance from Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani spoke somberly about the 15th anniversary of September 11, before showing the crowd his “9/11 shoes,” which he bought to make himself feel better, or something.
Around 3:45 p.m., Jon Voight (okay) introduced Trump, who walked onstage to a raucous standing ovation.
One year ago, Trump stood on the same stage and I sat in the same press section in the ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel, both of us largely ignored by the majority of the conference attendees, and devastatingly unprepared for what was to come. In my article about 2015's day of speeches, which featured almost every major Republican presidential wannabe, Trump was relegated to the status of an also-spoke, earning just this section in an article focused mainly on Marco Rubio (RIP) and Ted Cruz:
The two other candidates who spoke this morning were Rick Santorum and Donald Trump who have both reduced their personae into cliches...
Donald Trump brought a Bible his mother gave him on stage and then didn’t refer to it for the rest of the speech. He spent a solid ten minutes talking about his polling numbers, and then at one point he said “Uch, I’m gonna do so good.” And there’s Trump’s entire campaign.
It was a simpler time—neither Trump, nor I, nor the conference’s attendees and organizers, could have envisioned a future in which our big boy was the Republican Party’s nominee, in which he would have to embrace the furious throng of puritanical voters and feed them the Godspeak for which they’ve been tweet-begging. But here he was, polished, newly cognizant of the right way to cite Bible verses, and ready to impress some Christians.
On Friday, Trump successfully read his speech from a teleprompter through squinted eyes, occasionally breaking away to offer his signature nonsense word salads, which I guess counts as, in the broadest of terms, a success. He discussed the state of the country for Christians (“Our media culture often mocks and demeans people of faith... I hear how hard it is for parents to raise children in today’s media environment,”), his plans to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which bars tax-exempt organizations (ie. churches) from political endorsements, his plans to repeal Obamacare and to let families choose schools for their children. He also reprised his what have you got to lose shtick about black and Latinx communities, but this time saying it “with the utmost respect.”
The only time he mentioned social issues—where his past positions most starkly clash with the values voters, if we can say he has positions at all—was at the end, when he invoked the recently-deceased conservative activist Phyllis Schafly in a truly impressive narcissistic turn.
“I will fight for the American family and American family values,” he said to applause. “Phyllis Schafly, great woman, she understood that...the bedrock of our unity is the realization that we are all brothers and sisters created by the same god.”
“By the way,” he said in the same breath, “Phyllis endorsed me... She was so brave. That was not the popular thing to do at the time.”
Last year, the values voters were amused by Trump, who brought a family bible on stage and flapped it around. But this year, they ate him up, in large part out of necessity. They had, over the last year, forged a respectable evangelical candidate out of a profound miscreant. And that seems to have been good enough.