Appearing on CNN’s “New Day,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) was blunt about the Rob Porter issue. “I have no use for anybody who beats their spouse,” he said. “I tell you, the guy should have been shipped out the door months ago, as soon as they found out about it.” He added, “If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. … He better have a really good reason. Otherwise, he’s gone, too.”
That’s a lot more than we have heard from any of the so-called values voter groups that profess concern for the family. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, gave President Trump a “mulligan” on his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. (It’s not clear whether mulligans were dispensed for each of the alleged acts of sexual harassment or abuse brought against Trump during the campaign or for Trump backing accused child-molester Roy Moore.) Surely his group has something to say about a White House aide whose two ex-wives have presented compelling accounts (in one case a photograph of her battered eye) and who reportedly failed to get a full security clearance. Surely, he is appalled by chief of staff John F. Kelly’s decision to keep the aide on, despite knowledge of the security clearance problem, praise him and then pronounce himself shocked by the allegations. We asked FRC for comment. No one has responded. Its website makes no mention of the matter.
Concerned Women for America, which claims a membership of hundreds of thousands of women, lists as one of its concerns “the alarming increase in violence in American households, including same-sex and opposite-sex partner assaults, spousal assaults, and child and elder abuse.” Its website explains that one of its goals is to bring “an end to violence within households, especially the sexual abuse of children, while reinforcing the importance and autonomy of healthy families.” I asked CWA for comment on Porter. I have received no response.
The Family Leader, headed by a major player in evangelical politics, Bob Vander Plaats, says its mission is to “strengthen families, by inspiring Christ-like leadership in the home, the church, and the government.” I asked its spokesman for reaction to the Porter issue. “I don’t currently have a statement,” he said. In an email, he adds, “Obviously, The Family Leader stands against domestic violence and spousal abuse.” Just not enough to speak out against the White House, I guess.
Now, can we say we are surprised by the appalling lack of moral conviction displayed here? No.
The evangelical community at large long ago made peace with a thrice-married, allegedly philandering president who insults women and bragged about sexual assault in the “Access Hollywood” tape. Evangelicals did not abandon Trump when nearly 20 women came forward with detailed allegations of harassment and/or assault, nor when word came out that he allegedly paid hush money to a porn star before the election, nor when he endorsed Moore. They are not about to start standing up to him now. His racist, xenophobic and misogynistic comments don’t seem to bother them. Their “values” and concern for public decency do not extend to Trump.
Self-described “values” champions have put women and girls (including one who alleges that Moore molested her when she was 14) on the back burner. They’ve jettisoned any pretense to be vanguards of the culture for the sake of access to the president and influence in picking judges. The notion that they are there to protect women — “sacred” women, as Kelly once said — is risible. Needless to say, if anyone in a Democratic administration allowed a character like Porter to remain in the White House after receiving evidence of his alleged violence against women, these groups would be calling for the heads of all concerned and denouncing the president for creating an atmosphere where women are not respected. Their record in enabling Trump and rationalizing support for him has made them a laughingstock. But it’s no laughing matter when leaders who influence the thinking and votes of millions of people become protectors of the most morally depraved administration in modern history.
UPDATE: It is noteworthy that, according to the Partnership for Public Service, the administration has not nominated anyone as the Justice Department’s director for the office of violence against women. Likewise, no one has been named as the White House’s adviser for violence against women, a position created in the Obama administration.
UPDATE (5:10 p.m.) II: I caught up to Penny Nance, president of CWA. She said she has been in California and has not spoken to anyone in the White House about this. She says that when the security clearance was denied, “Porter should have been immediately fired and escorted out.” She adds, “Obviously, it was a terrible mistake [to keep him].” She says “there is no excuse for domestic abuse” but says she doesn’t know enough to call for Kelly to resign. As for the open positions relating to violence against women, she says, “They need to be filled immediately.”
Does she think there is a tolerance of abuse for women in the White House? “No, my experience is that the White House is very sensitive to abuse to women and children.” How can Christian women continue to back this president and suffer his behavior in silence? “I have the blessing of meeting with the president one on one. He is extremely respectful. We like his policies.” Does she not feel obligated to speak out when his conduct or rhetoric is objectionable? “I want to support the president because I support his policies. Am I going to go out of my way to smack him down? No.”
That should give us a glimpse into how support for character and decency gives way to raw political calculation. For many Americans, this thinking is inexplicable and leads to normalizing a president whose character and actions are beyond the pale.