The Tea Party’s infatuation with Donald Trump may be over.
Now, “may” is the operative word, since rumors of Trump’s demise, as you might have noticed, have been a touch overstated. But the Republican presidential frontrunner’s recent call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration has put him at odds with some of the most conservative people on the right—including congressional Tea Party darlings.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Tea Party favorite who won support from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz in his Republican primary campaign in Nebraska, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to criticize the mogul.
“Monday night was a flood,” Sasse said, referring to Trump’s bombastic campaign-rally speech about Muslim immigration. “Neither are what our people need or really what they, at their best, want.”
Though the senator didn’t mention Trump by name, the allusion was clear as day.
Sasse then proceeded to characterize the mogul in extraordinarily harsh terms while blaming President Obama and other Washington insiders for Trump’s support.
“The people who are supposed to be laser-focused on defending the American people—that is us—mouth silly platitudes that show we’re either too weak or too confused to keep our people safe,” he said. “Then a megalomaniac strongman steps forward, and he starts screaming about travel bans and deportation, and offering promises to keep all of us safe, which to some and I think actually to many more than those of us in this body seem to understand, to some will sound much better than not being protected at all.”
Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a shocking primary upset due in large part to his tough-on-undocumented-immigration stance, also criticized Trump’s approach.
“You gotta be very careful on lines of thought when you’re conveying these lines to the media,” Brat said. “The right way to go is just to talk about overseas threats, and quantifying those based on what’s in the best interests of American citizens.”
Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican who won his seat in the 2010 Tea Party wave, shared those concerns in a press release that criticized the mogul’s stance as a religious freedom problem.
“Singling out any faith community for the actions of extremists is not conservative, it is hostile to our founding,” Hultgren said.
Off the Hill, other movement conservative firebrands were distressed by Trump’s call for a religious test.
“I think that calling for a religious test is contrary to our founding principles and that our Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves right now,” said Penny Nance, who heads Concerned Women for America.
She added that Trump’s decision to single out Muslims for extra scrutiny undermines the principles of religious freedom that protect other religious minorities—a category that includes, in her opinion, evangelical Christians.
“I think in our society that evangelical Christians are viewed less and less favorably, and we should be very concerned,” Nance said. “It begins a slippery slope that eventually ensnares all of us.”
In the wake of Kim Davis’s arrest and legal targeting of conservative Christian bakers and florists who refused to serve gay couples’ weddings, evangelical Christians—including Nance—have increasingly focused on religious freedom issues. She wasn’t the only conservative to argue that singling out Muslims could result in similar discriminatory treatment of Christians.
Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, also said the real estate baron’s stance is incompatible with the Constitution.
“A religious qualification is unfitting,” he said. “It kind of flies in the face of the founding principles of the government.”
“Our public policy focus should be on ensuring security and preventing those wanting to do us harm from entering our country, not just haphazardly creating religious barriers,” he added.
That said, it remains to be seen if Trump supporters will share Tea Party leaders’ views of their idol.
Billie Tucker, who co-founded the First Coast Tea Party in Florida, said Trump’s foes shouldn’t hold their breath.
“People are very excited to hear somebody speaking out—things that they’ve been thinking and no one will say,” she said. “He is saying a lot of stuff that people think.”