President Donald Trump relies on the support of Christians, particularly Evangelicals, to push through his agenda and maintain his hold on power. However, a group of former aides told The Atlantic that he mocks those very Christians privately and holds them in contempt.
According to an August report in The Conversation, nearly eight in 10 Evangelical Christians in the U.S. voted for Trump in 2016, and his support in that community remains quite strong. The president has returned that support by nominating three conservative justices, all of whom could be considered likely to be a vote cast in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. He’s also cultivated an image of being the president Christians need, claiming that he’s the most pro-religious liberty POTUS ever. He has been photographed praying with Christian leaders and posing in front of a Washington D.C. church holding a Bible.
Former aides say it’s all an act, designed to earn the support of a powerful voting bloc.
“His view was ‘I’ve been talking to these people for years; I’ve let them stay at my hotels—they’re gonna endorse me. I played the game,'” said a former campaign adviser to Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
By way of example, one aide pointed to a conversation they reportedly overheard between Trump and his then-advisor, Michael Cohen, over televangelist Creflo Dollar’s pleas for his followers to purchase a private jet for him. Trump had met with Dollar in 2011 when he was exploring a presidential bid. However, aboard Air Force One that day, Trump accused the preacher of being “full of sh*t.”
“They’re all hustlers,” he reportedly said.
Similarly, in a recording obtained by The Atlantic, he was purportedly overheard at a meeting discussing his dismissal of Mike Pence’s requests to pray with him.
“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”
During that same meeting, Trump purportedly interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and justify the nickname “Little Ben Sasse” that he’d given him.
“That’s when my religion always deserts me,” he reportedly said at the time.
Multiple people formerly affiliated with the president went on the record to accuse him of not having a religious bone in his body. Barbara Res, a former executive at the Trump Organization, told The Atlantic that she’d always assumed the 45th president was an atheist, while A. J. Delgado, who worked on his 2016 campaign, said simply, “He’s not religious.”
A spokesperson for Trump said that the president is committed to the ideals of religious liberty and the sanctity of life, and that those around him are familiar with his joking and his sense of humor.