The fact that Donald Trump said in 2005 that he could grab women “by the pussy” because he’s famous doesn’t seem to be changing how social conservative leaders feel about him.
Evangelicals who opposed him before still aren’t fans. And the ones in his camp aren’t phased by the recording. That’s because this isn’t about how much they like the brash billionaire; it’s about how unflinching they are in their opposition to Hillary Clinton.
“People of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, defend religious liberty and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” said Ralph Reed, who heads the Faith & Freedom Coalition. “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on their hierarchy of concerns.”
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.”
But, he added, he’s still voting Trump. He said he moderated a meeting between the candidate and Evangelical and Catholic leaders, and he was forthright about his hesitations about Trump’s moral
“I said at that time, with Trump sitting next to me, I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday School teacher,” Jeffress said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”
He added that he doesn’t think Hillary Clinton is morally superior to Trump.
“Here is a woman who lied to the families of the Benghazi victims, she destroyed 33,000 emails while under subpoena, and she’s attacked the women who attacked her husband,” he said. “The fact is we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, and God doesn’t grade people according to their level of sin.”
And David Bozell, a Roman Catholic who heads the conservative group ForAmerica and supports Trump, said the audio won’t change how conservative voters view the candidate.
“Bill Clinton’s history of being a sexual predator, including affairs with interns, dwarfs any locker room banter,” he said. “The clip is unfortunate, but then again, we’re not electing saints in November.”
Meanwhile, Russell Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Commission’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted out that the audio undergirds his long-held concerns about Trump. And he posted a statement he’d released more than a year ago explaining his opposition to Trump.
“In the 1990s, some of these social conservatives argued that ‘If Bill Clinton’s wife can’t trust him, neither can we,’” Moore wrote in that statement. “If character matters, character matters. Today’s evangelicals should ask, ‘Whatever happened to our commitment to ‘traditional family values’?”
Trump won white Evangelicals comfortably in the Republican primaries, according to NBC News exit polling. And a Pew Research survey from July found that 78 percent of white Evangelical voters back him, and noted that his support with that cohort was stronger than Mitt Romney’s was at that point in the 2012 race.
After all, Evangelicals have forgiven Trump for bragging about sleeping with married women, cheating on his own wife, and appearing on the cover of Playboy.
The comments Trump made are gross, as his social conservative backers concede. But, to these Evangelicals, “grab them by the pussy” doesn’t sound quite as bad as “President Hillary Clinton.”