In a moment of candor on the floor of the Republican National Convention last night, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a major figure in the ultra-conservative Christian wing of the GOP, admitted that he does not know whether Donald Trump, whom he had just endorsed for president, would govern as the sort of conservative he promises to be.
A lingering concern about Trump among Republicans is that his professed conservatism and his sudden claims of devout Christianity are positions of convenience and not conviction. It was for that reason, in part at least, that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz created an uproar at the convention by declining to endorse Trump and instead urging delegates to “vote your conscience” in November.
“You know what? I have no certainty,” Perkins said when asked about Trump’s claims about his principles. “But I have a much better chance that we’re going to go in the right direction with Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. We know exactly where the country will go under her.”
Perkins had only just come down from the podium where, after making it clear that he was speaking for himself and not the FRC or any other organization, said, “I will be voting for Donald Trump in November, and I will urge my fellow Americans to do the same.”
Like many of the Republican leaders who took to the stage to speak at this convention, Perkins’ endorsement of Trump was tepid. In brief remarks, the only substantive issue he spent any time on was purely parochial — Trump’s promise to consider rolling back the requirement that religious organizations remain apolitical in order to retain their tax-exempt status.
Off the stage, he said, “I have a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Donald Trump has stated conservative principles. He has basically done everything that conservatives have to this point said would be required for them to be comfortable with him. He’s listed 11 Supreme Court justices that he would nominate, all conservatives, and said he would seek the input of the Federalist Society. We have a very conservative party platform — he allowed the delegates to do their work. He picked a conservative running mate.”
Reminded that Trump has a long and well-documented history of saying one thing and doing another, Perkins was asked if he was supporting Trump in an act of calculated risk-taking.
“You know what? Nations are built on calculated risk. Yeah. You could say we’re taking a calculated risk, but we’re at a point where we have to as a nation because what we have seen in the last seven and a half years has put the nation fiscally and culturally on the edge.”
The idea that voting for Trump is justified because desperate times call for desperate measures was pervasive in Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night.
Buddy Pilgrim, Texas delegate from Dallas who had been a strong supporter of Ted Cruz said that while he respected Cruz’s decision to decline to endorse Trump, he would personally be voting for the New York billionaire.
“He’s not as conservative as I would like him to be,” Pilgrim said, before repeating something he remembered Cruz once saying about Trump.
“Ted Cruz said at one time, when somebody asked, ‘What do you think Donald Trump is going to do when he becomes president?’ Ted said, ‘I don’t know, because I don’t think Donald fully knows what he’s going to do when he becomes president.’”
Pilgrim said, “Donald’s probably not as principled as Ted in terms of his commitment to the Constitution and knowing how he wants to go about implementing that — I’m not saying he wants to go run some rogue unconstitutional government.”
While not planning to run a rogue unconstitutional government might seem like an entry-level requirement for someone campaigning for president, the truth is that in Cleveland, there seems to have been an even more fundamental requirement for winning the votes of the delegates: Not being Hillary Clinton.
“We need Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton,” Pilgrim said.