The way Donald Trump speaks about and behaves toward women is odious. I need not retread ground others have already ably covered, but suffice it to say the Republican nominee is at least not the sort of person with whom most women would feel comfortable alone.
In the wake of recent revelations about Trump’s misogyny, many of his supporters have stood by him on the rationale that Democrat Hillary Clinton would be a worse president. “I am still more bothered by what Hillary has done than by what Trump has said,” said The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren. Trump’s treatment of women, the 24-year-old continued, “doesn’t impact border security, national security, trade, jobs, spending or anything else that impacts your daily life. No! But same cannot be said about Hillary’s dream of open trade and open borders.”
Though Lahren may not be old enough to remember it, the “policy over character” argument used to be more at home on the political left, while the right—and particularly social conservatives—insisted good character mattered most.
“We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power,” goes one 1998 statement signed by a number of prominent evangelicals.
“We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy,” it continues. That Bill Clinton was a comparatively moderate and fiscally responsible president was mostly irrelevant in light of his moral failings.
To borrow Lahren’s phrasing, Clinton’s infidelities and indiscretions didn’t “impact border security, national security, trade, jobs, spending or anything else that impacts your daily life.” Still, conservatives said, they mattered.
Some on the right are still making that argument that today, and perhaps needless to say, they’re not Trump supporters. This split among former allies is playing out in microcosm at Virginia’s Liberty University, the extremely conservative college founded by former Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell.
After Falwell died several years ago, his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., took over in his place. While it’s difficult to imagine Falwell the elder—a man who founded a school so strict that students are not permitted to kiss, dance, or hug for longer than three seconds—would be able to stomach a man as lecherous as Trump, his son is among the billionaire’s greatest evangelical enthusiasts.
Many Liberty students are not, and neither are they happy their school is increasingly tied to Trump’s name in the public mind. Fed up with Falwell Jr.’s decision to double down on Trump support after news broke of the candidate making graphic sexual remarks in 1995, a group of them formed “Liberty United Against Trump” and wrote a public letter in protest.
“Associating any politician with Christianity is damaging to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” they argued. “But Donald Trump is not just any politician. He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”
Referencing the high standards to which Falwell’s administration holds the Liberty community, they continued: “Any faculty or staff member at Liberty would be terminated for” comments like those Trump was caught making, but Falwell Jr. has brushed them off as “if sexual assault is a shoulder-shrugging issue rather than an atrocity which plagues college campuses across America.”
One hardly need be a Clinton supporter—I know I am not—to see that the students are in the right.
Falwell Jr. argues, like Lahren, that Trump’s good policies outweigh his bad character. “Our country is gonna suffer if we get sidetracked on these rabbit trails about is this person a good person, is that person a good person,” he has said. “It’s not about that. It’s about what are their positions on the issues.”
The truth is it’s about both. Of course policy matters, but character matters too. And even if I shared Falwell’s high appraisal of Trump’s policies, I’d be worried about his character. After all, without discipline and integrity, who’s to say any president is up for the challenge of putting his policies into action?