And it identifies residents of the deep South who are white, racist, insulated, theologically ignorant, and despisers of anyone they consider outsiders to their whiteness. In short, they are Trump voters and Moore supporters.
For decades, the belief that private morality was essential to assessing the worthiness of politicians and public figures was an animating ideal at the core of the Christian right’s credo. As with most ideals, the movement did not always live up to its own standards. So-called “values voters” pursued a polarizing, multi-faceted agenda that was often tangled up in prejudice and partisanship. They fiercely defended Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, for example, and then excoriated Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
But even when they were failing to hold their own side accountable, they still clung to the idea that “character counts.” As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by the time Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent. White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. “This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,” Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian America, recently told me.
Conservative values voters seem to have largely abandoned their search for moral exemplars in the political arena—as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote last year—and are now content to settle for any candidate who will fight abortion and protect their religious freedom.
In sum, they are members of the Tea Party.