Starting in the 1980s when Jerry Falwell formed Moral Majority organization, the religious right has built its brand around demands to impose “traditional morality” — i.e., no abortions, no birth control, no rights for gays, white people running everything (they don’t say this part out loud, but it’s there) In short, just like the Golden Age of the 1950s, which in their nostalgic imagination was the peak of civilization when the white anglo-saxon straight male’s right to rule the world was a given (it wasn’t, even back then, but it was certainly less questioned that now). But it’s not because they’re bigots or sexists, gosh no, it’s because they’re more moral than the rest of us. They have the moral high ground. Even when Jerry Falwell was against racial integration, he’d have told you he was the moral one in that fight.
Yet as even former RNC chair Michael Steele has pointed out, conservative Christianity, by and large, is perfectly fine with an adulterous, lecherous, sexual harasser who bears false witness against his neighbor. As right-winger Tony Perkins put it, Trump’s getting a mulligan for any affairs he may have had in the past. Perkins argues this is completely different from criticizing Clinton because Trump’s actions were all in the past; if anyone thinks Perkins would give a damn if Trump gets caught sleeping around in the present, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
So why the support from people who’ve spent years calling for Christian morality everywhere? There are multiple possibilities.
First, they’re honest when convenient. As Perkins points out, for all their talk of morality the leaders of the Religious Right aren’t going to fuss about morality when it’s inconvenient politically. They can count on Trump to side with them against The Other, why alienate him? Of course, special interest groups routinely criticize parties they support for not going far enough, so I don’t see this is an issue, except, of course, Trump has no tolerance for any criticism.
Second, Trump is Cyrus the Great, a flawed leader God will nevertheless use for his purposes. Which of course, are always the same as the religious right’s. Most importantly, God hates everyone they (#notallChristianconservatives, but way, way too many) hate, which is everyone who questions the straight WASP male’s exalted status as supreme ruler. Everyone who stands in the way of them running the country. So who cares that Trump creates tax policies, environmental policies and immigration policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor; WASPs will get the power back. Of course most of them won’t (most of them are not the kind of rich folks who benefit under Trump) but they’ll get the next best thing, screwing over all those people they hate. “FU liberals” is a good enough policy for some of them.
Third, the rank and file have been told, repeatedly, that it’s all bullshit. Back in the Bush years, I heard several conservative pundits and religious leaders argue that the right-wing sex scandal du jour was nothing to worry about — Clinton, though, he was horrible! Rush Limbaugh recently lied that Trump has never sexually harassed anyone. If you stay in a conservative media bubble, it’s probably easy to believe. Particularly as that makes it easier to quash any moral qualms they might have.
Four, for some of them there’s no difference between “Christian” and “conservative Republican.” So anything that advances the Republican side is Christian.
Fifth, they honestly don’t care that Trump cheats. For all that “no adultery” is one of the Commandments, the Religious Right fusses about it far less than they do The Gays or The Sexually Active Women. They’re the patriarchal extreme of Christianity, and for a lot of patriarchals, having their leaders control and dominate women — well, they’re the leaders! They’re entitled. And certainly not entitled to be questioned by the lower orders.
Any of these, or all of them combined, might be right.