While speaking with a group of evangelical leaders in New York on Tuesday, Donald Trump appeared to question Hillary Clinton’s faith, according to a brief video clip released by conservative activist E.W. Jackson. “We don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion,” the presumptive Republican nominee told the audience, according to a transcript by The Hill. “Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no — there's nothing out there.”
This statement is just Trump’s latest lie — Clinton is a Methodist who has spoken about her faith and its impact on her politics. However, conservatives have for decades used similar falsehoods to attack Democratic presidential candidates.
President Obama has spent eight years facing accusations about his faith. Donald Trump, echoing other conservatives, has accused him of being a secret Muslim. At the same time, conservatives have made the contradictory attack that Obama attended a Chicago church that was racist.
During his presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry’s Catholicism was called into question. The conservative Weekly Standard called Kerry “a curious kind of Catholic” while some conservative bishops decided to deny him communion.
Bill Clinton, a Baptist, spent his eight years in the White House facing accusations about his faith from the Christian Right. The New York Times reported in 1994, “Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition called Mr. Clinton's inauguration a ‘repudiation of our forefathers' covenant with God.’” This was just one of a litany of attacks, innuendo and unproven accusations hurled at the president by those purporting to represent Christianity.
Even Michael Dukakis faced ugly accusations about his commitment to the Greek Orthodox Church. During the 1988 election, James G. Jatras, who worked for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, called Dukakis a "renegade, an outcast" who "severed [his membership in the religion due to his] marriage outside the church" because his wife was Jewish.
Riling up adherents into believing the latest Democratic standard-bearer represents an antireligious force that must be opposed has long been part of the Christian Right playbook … one that often proves useful in organizing and fundraising efforts.
As the Times noted in their 1994 article, Jerry Falwell’s attacks on Clinton were part of an effort that “sold tens of thousands of the videotapes for ‘donations’ of at least $40 plus $3 for shipping.” The same piece cited other Christian conservatives using direct mail to fundraise off tawdry accusations against the president.
Trump might be rewriting the book on how conservatives campaign for the White House, but when it comes to attacks on Hillary Clinton’s religion, he is just rehashing an old tired pattern of attacks.