When President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky made national headlines, CNN reported that then-Family Research Council President Gary Bauer was considering a television ad campaign demanding that Clinton explain his relationship with her.
But the group seems to have a very different reaction when it's a president the conservative organization supports.
The Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump's lawyer paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to prevent her from talking about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. The report was soon followed by the release of a lengthy 2011 interview Daniels did with InTouch magazine describing the affair.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins recently told Politico that evangelicals were willing to give Trump a “do-over.”
“We kind of gave him — ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,’ ” Perkins said in an interview for the latest episode of Politico's Off Message podcast.
There are obvious differences between the Clinton scandal and the alleged Trump-Daniels affair. Clinton was president at the time; Trump was still a real estate developer, reality TV host and private citizen. Clinton denied under oath having sexual relations with Lewinsky, setting off a legal controversy. For those reasons, one could argue that the scandals shouldn't be viewed as the same.
But it does appear that evangelical leaders are applying their moral standards differently to the two controversies. Scandals, language and worldviews that evangelicals would have once considered sinful now appear to be played down, ignored or justified for the sake of influence. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has even gone so far to call Trump evangelicals' “dream president.”
Christian Broadcasting Network Chairman Pat Robertson once accused Clinton of turning the Oval Office into a “playpen for the sexual freedom of the poster child of the 1960s” and called the president a “debauched, debased and defamed” leader.
But in an interview with Trump in July 2017, Robertson told the president, “I'm so proud of everything you're doing.”
“I appreciate so much what you're doing. By the way, the evangelicals of America voted 83 percent in the last election for you. And I want you to know there are thousands and thousands of people praying for you all the time,” Robertson said.
Trump's rise to the White House has revealed quite a few cultural shifts. And one of the most notable is how Christian conservatives, whose leaders once testified on Capitol Hill about the evils of pornography, have embraced a man who once made a cameo in an explicit Playboy video.
Perkins said part of the reason some evangelicals have embraced Trump so much is because they were exhausted with how the Obama administration treated them.
Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
What happened to turning the other cheek?, I ask.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
Perkins's interview suggests that he and other evangelical leaders are aware of the criticism of the president and his alleged behavior, but have chosen to prioritize Trump's pledge to help overturn Roe v. Wade and commitment to Christians above all else.
And so have their flocks. More than a year after white evangelicals overwhelmingly backed Trump, they also supported Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. Moore was a Trump-backed conservative Christian accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls.
It's understandable that evangelicals want a voice in the White House, something some say is now the case more than ever. But some leaders' apparent double standards on sex scandals also risk pushing followers away from their houses of worship.