Trump's Comey-Hour Speech Could Be a Last Supper Event

trump june 17
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with the Republican congressional leadership at the White House on June 6. On Thursday, Trump will address a Faith and Freedom Coalition event. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Updated | Christ's Last Supper. The Prodigal Son. A pastor looking for the biblical parable that would best describe the scene Thursday when 1,500 grassroots activists of the right wing fundamentalist persuasion come together in a ballroom in Washington to pray with President Donald Trump would have to amalgamate those two stories.

Trump’s speech is timed to coincide with the testimony of his personal Judas, fired FBI Director James Comey, across town on Capitol Hill. Comey is expected to describe in greater detail what’s already known about Trump’s efforts to get him to back off investigations into Russian influence on the campaign and Trump’s staff. 

Related: On Trump train, evangelicals are higher power

Meanwhile, Trump’s host, Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) founder Ralph E. Reed Jr., will be enjoying a prodigal son moment. The veteran Christian Coalition political operative, a Michael J. Fox doppelganger, left Washington ignominiously in 2006 after a pair of scandals tarnished his halo but didn’t end his career. In 1997, the chief financial officer of the Christian Coalition accused friends of Reed's of overcharging the Coalition by $1 million. In 2005, Reed was implicated in one of the decade’s sleaziest congressional lobbying scandals, involving Indian gambling rights. 

Reed ran for Georgia lieutenant governor and lost, then sat out the Obama years down in Duluth, applying the fundraising and organizing skills he’d honed in Washington during the Clinton and Bush years to create and build the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which now boasts access to some 600,000 voters and has an annual revenue of more than $6 million. That makes it influential enough to have both the president and the vice president of the United States willing and eager to show up to entertain God’s troops. 

Because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s donors can remain legally anonymous, and Reed can run their money into any SuperPAC or political organization. Trump’s recent religious freedom executive order effectively allows all religious organizations to become dark-money vessels, but Reed has been pulling in anonymous dollars for God for more than a decade. When Reed first announced the Coalition, he was known to be working in concert with major donors like Home Depot co-founders Bernie Marcus and the late John Templeton Jr.'s family organization, as well as groups that get funding from the billionaire Koch brothers.

Reed was among the first tacticians on the right who saw how anti-tax, hard-right business dollars could be put to use organizing the minority of Americans whose anti-science beliefs and antediluvian social mores could be easily piqued by modern educational agendas, gay marriage and feminism. His former business partner in the consulting firm Century Strategies is Tim Phillips, now president of Americans for Prosperity. Reed announced his new coalition at an anti-health-care rally in Atlanta in 2009 that was financed by Koch money. 

Awash in billionaire cash, American fundamentalists have been able to exert an  influence on state and national politics far out of proportion to their actual numbers. The 1,500 “grassroots activists” descending on Washington this week for the Coalition’s annual “Road To Majority” seminars and speeches “will leave better equipped to influence elected officials to strengthen families, promote time-honored values, and protect the dignity of human life and marriage,” according to an FFC website blog. 

Trump’s alliance with white, hard-right Christians appears risible in light of his three marriages and lifetime libertinism, but since he packed his Cabinet with nine Evangelicals and signed an executive order basically encouraging anti-LGBT and anti-feminist merchants to discriminate against gays and women, the fundamentalists aren’t even holding their noses around him anymore. Pew Research Center recently found that more than three-fourths of white evangelical Christians approve of Trump’s job performance, most of them “strongly.”

Reed has compared court rulings allowing gay marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of slavery in the Dred Scott case. “President Trump won an overwhelming plurality of voters of faith last year and in the opening months of his administration faith-based voters remain his most loyal supporters and we are extremely excited that President Trump will once again address thousands of conservative activists from across the country at Road To Majority,” Reed said when announcing Trump’s speech. 

Besides energizing its best foot soldiers with personal appearances by the president and the veep, the Faith and Freedom Coalition is heavily involved in trying to hold up the besieged Republicans in a bellwether congressional race in Georgia between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handler, in a special election June 20 viewed as a signifier for how Trump is affecting the GOP. Volunteers have papered the district with 30,000 one-page leaflets touting issues like cutting off Planned Parenthood funding. According to The New York Times, the coalition has identified more than 100,000 potential voters it plans to target with 250,000 phone calls, 22,000 home visits and 12 videos to be sent to phones and computers. 

We know Trump and possibly other higher powers will be watching that race.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that John Templeton Jr.'s family organization receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers.