Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Almost half a million donors have contributed to President Barack Obama's campaign, according to a "thank you" sent from his official Twitter feed. It has not been confirmed whether he has reached the goal of raising $60m by the end of the second quarter (which ended on 30 June). Democrats claim they will easily hit this target.

Barack Obama's donors

2. In the Republican camp, speculation about donations is rife, although results won't be public until 15 July. Mitt Romney's campaign is expected to have raised around $20m in the quarter, less than the £30-40m some had forecast. However, he is still likely to far outpace everyone else in the Republican presidential field.

Jon Huntsman -- who has been an official candidate for just nine days -- is the first to leak his figures, which are reportedly around $4.1m. However, according to ABC, "less than half" came from Huntsman himself, meaning that he actually raised around $2m. Ron Paul announced on his Facebook page that he's raised $4.5m -- double the amount he raised at this point in the last election cycle.

Details about the others are less forthcoming, although Michele Bachmann is expected to have had a good quarter following all the publicity she has received in recent weeks.

Mitt Romney

3. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner, appeared to back-pedal from his claims that Obama has made the recession worse. In early June, he said that Obama "didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer." He said the same thing on Monday.

However, when an NBC producer asked him yesterday to explain why Obama's policies hurt the economy, he said "I didn't say that things are worse", adding:

What I said was that [the] economy hasn't turned around, that you've got 20 million Americans out of work, or seriously unemployed; housing values still going down. You have a crisis of foreclosures in this country. The economy, by the way, if you think the economy is great and going well, be my guest. But the president of the United States, when he put in place his stimulus plan and borrowed $787 billion, said he would hold unemployment below 8% -- and 8% seemed like an awfully high number. It hasn't been below 8% since. That's failure. We're over 9% unemployment. That's failure. He set the bogie himself at 8% ,which strikes me as a very high number and we're still above that three years later.

4. Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan congressman, will file paperwork to enter the 2012 presidential race today. The little known Republican spent four days in Iowa this week, and reportedly left "feeling positive". The former Iowa House Speaker, Chris Rants, will serve as his senior adviser in the state, although he previously endorsed Romney. Despite McCotter's low profile amongst Republicans across the country, Politico notes that he is popular with the conservative media crowd. The commentator Andrew Breitbart told the publication that McCotter was "blunt, sarcastic, pop-culture-savvy, constitutionally sound and an authentic voice."

Not sure who he is? Here is a vintage video of him explaining "How to speak Democrat" in 2008. Suffice to say comic timing isn't his forte.

 

5. Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, will leave his job in the autumn if economic conditions improve and the debt ceiling debate is resolved, according to a senior administration official. The news has been reported by several US media outlets, including Bloomberg.

While it is too early to say whether he will definitely depart (and indeed, there are too many caveats to be sure), it would be a significant loss. Geithner is the last member of Obama's original economic team still with the administration. Possible replacements are already being touted, with the list said to include Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and Roger Altman, a top investment banker and former deputy Treasury secretary.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The first godless US election

America’s evangelical right has chosen Donald Trump, who hardly even pays lip service to having faith.

There has never been an openly non-Christian president of the United States. There has never been an openly atheist senator. God, seemingly, is a rock-solid prerequisite for American political life.

Or it was, until this year.

Early in the 2016 primaries, preacher and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator Rick Santorum – both darlings of the evangelical far right – fell by the wayside. So did Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the son of a preacher.

Ted Cruz, once the Republican race had thinned, tried to present himself as the last godly man, but was roundly beaten – even among evangelicals – by Donald Trump, a man whose lip service to religion was so cursory as to verge on satire.

Trump may have claimed in a televised debate that “nobody reads the Bible more than me”, but he demurred when pressed to name even a verse he liked. His pronouncements show a lack of any knowledge or interest in faith and its tenets; he once called a communion wafer his “little cracker”.

The boorish Trump is a man at whose megalomaniacal pronouncements any half-hearted glance reveals a belief in, if any god at all, only the one he sees in a mirror. The national exercise in cognitive dissonance required for America’s religious rightwingers to convince themselves that he’s a candidate with whom they have anything in common is truly staggering.

But evangelicals don’t seem troubled. In the March primary in Florida, Trump carried 49 per cent of the evangelical vote. He won Mississippi, a state where fully three-quarters of Republican primary voters are white evangelicals.

In the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders became the first Jewish candidate ever to win a presidential primary – though he has barely once spoken about his faith – and Hillary Clinton has spoken about god on the campaign trail only occasionally, without receiving much media play. In fact, when the question of faith came up at one Democratic debate there was a backlash against CNN for even asking.

The truth is that Christian faith as a requisite for political power has drooped into a kind of virtue-signalling: the “Jesus Is My Homeboy” bumper-sticker; the crucifix tattoo; the meme on social media about footprints in the sand. It is about identity politics, tribal politics, me-and-mine versus you-and-yours politics, but it hasn’t really been about faith for a while.

What the hell happened?

Partly, there was a demographic shift. “Unaffiliated” is by far the fastest-growing religious category in the US, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, which also showed that the total proportion of Americans who define as Christian dropped almost 9 percentage points between 2007 and 2014.

There is no doubt that America is still a fairly devout nation compared with the UK, but the political mythos that developed around its Christianity is a relatively late invention. The words “under god” were only implanted into the pledge of allegiance – between the words “one nation” and “indivisible” – in 1954, by President Eisenhower.

The ascendance of the political power of the Christian right in America happened in 1979, when a televangelist called Jerry Falwell founded a pressure group called Moral Majority.

Moral Majority’s support for Ronald Reagan was widely credited for his victory in the 1980 election, which in turn secured for them a position at the top table of Republican politics. For three decades, the Christian right was the single most important voting bloc in America.

But its power has been waning for a decade, and there are greater priorities in the American national psyche now.

Trump’s greatest asset throughout the primary was what makes his religiosity or lack thereof immaterial: his authenticity. His lack of a filter, his ability to wriggle free from gaffes which would have felled any other candidate with a simple shrug. This is what not just religious voters, but all of the Republican voting base were waiting for: someone who isn’t pandering, who hasn’t focus-grouped what they want to hear.

They don’t care that he may or may not truly share their belief in god. Almost all voters in this election cycle – including evangelicals, polling suggests – prioritise the economy over values anyway.

On top of that, the Christian right is facing the beginnings of an insurgency from within its own ranks; a paradigm shift in conservatism. A new culture war is beginning, fought by the alt-right, a movement whelped on anarchic message boards like 4chan, whose philosophical instincts lean towards the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist, and to whom the antique bloviation of Christian morality politics means nothing.

Trump doesn’t pander, an approach only made possible by social media, which amplifies his voice six millionfold while simultaneously circumventing the old establishment constructs – like the media – which had previously acted as gatekeepers to power.

The Christian right – now personified in Jerry Falwell Jr and Liberty University, which Falwell senior founded in the Seventies – found itself another of those constructs. They were forced to choose: jump on board the Trump Train or be left behind.

They chose Trump.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.