“The Religious Right held their noses and voted for Trump.”
You know this line all too well. Unless you live in a sensory deprivation tank, you probably hear it many times a day from pretty much every expert analyst. You’ve heard it so many times that you probably believe it without even thinking to question it.
But it is simply baseless nonsense.
The Religious Right did not in fact hold their noses and vote for Trump. They enthusiastically embraced Trump AND all of his vile, disgusting behaviors and rhetoric. And even after nearly two years of incessent exposure to his lies and indictments and mean-spirited policies, these supposed nose-holders still support Trump without significant reservation or qualification. At this point it is fair to ask whether they support him precisely because of all his vile, disgusting behaviors and rhetoric.
You can reality-check this for yourself. Simply tune in any talk show that accepts calls from the Religious Right. The overwhelming number of these callers not only still support Trump, but they support him passionately and vehemently. You won’t detect any nose-holding from them.
The next time you hear an analyst repeat this meme, notice that they never provide any evidence or data to support it. In fact, this narrative of the mythological nose-holding, morally conflicted religious right voter is definitively disproven by impartial analysis of the facts. In a study of voting data, political science professor Paul J. Djupe at Denison University concluded that:
“To the central claim: noseholding is not disproportionately common (or uncommon for that matter) among white evangelicals (see here).”
Professor Djupe goes on to point out that:
“I understand why the claim of noseholding is attractive. It suggests that you and your group are better, more pure than a political candidate, that your support is temporary and subject to revocation. It is a claim of both independence and moral superiority.”
So any such claim of moral angst in a Trump voter is a false claim. Rather, it is a strong indicator of moral deficiency. It is analogous to my admitting to my wife that I had an affair with a seedy prostitute, but that I had to “hold my nose” to do it. And this moral failure is not only evident in their support of Trump, but in their wholehearted support of a Conservative Congress that engages in similarly egregious behaviors that are in direct conflict with their espoused moral values.
It is clear why the elite on the religious right like to push this narrative to make themselves look and feel better, particularly while they support politicians who engage in blatant behavior that is antithetical to everything they falsely claim to stand for.
But this nose-holding meme is also repeated without legitimate skepticism by mainstream analysts. I suspect this is partly because they themselves would be conflicted in such a situation. Perhaps they genuinely held their nose and voted for Hillary when their heart was with Bernie. It is natural then that they would naively project their own angst into those on the religious right.
But do not make the mistake of giving the Religious Right too much credit for basic human decency and morality. Do not underestimate their capacity to rationalize terrible behaviors as somehow moral and justifiable. I previously wrote about their support for torture as one example (see here). In the case of Trump, they did not, and still do not, even have the rudimentary decency to actually hold their noses while they fervently embrace both him and all his enablers.