WASHINGTON (RNS) — A conservative think tank with ties to former President Donald Trump is denying the existence of an internal document detailing Christian nationalist policy goals should Trump win back the White House in November, but has nonetheless endorsed using the ideology to shape public policy.

On Tuesday (Feb. 20), the Center for Renewing America, headed by a former Trump director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, denied a Politico report claiming that the Washington think tank drafted a document that includes “Christian nationalism” among a bulleted list of priorities for a second Trump term.

“The so-called reporting from Politico is false and we told them so on multiple occasions,” a CRA representative told Religion News Service on Tuesday via email. Politico stood by its reporting, saying in a statement to RNS that the story was “thoroughly vetted and reported” and that “CRA seems to be unable, or unwilling, to specify what it believes to be inaccurate.”

Vought has long been rumored to be on Trump’s shortlist for White House chief of staff should he be reelected, and the Center for Renewing America, which Vought founded in 2021, has been connected to Project 2025, a sweeping conservative plan to reshape the executive branch to greatly expand the power of the presidency, according to reports.

According to Rolling Stone, the CRA’s support for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO helped Trump warm to the proposal.

A graduate of Wheaton College, the evangelical Christian school outside Chicago, Vought has been openly supportive of forms of Christian nationalism. “We’re meant to be a Christian nation — we should be a Christian nation,” he said during an appearance on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” show Wednesday on the Real America’s Voice channel.

Vought continued: “We should provide religious liberty for everyone in this country to practice their faith. But the Constitution, the system, doesn’t work, Western civilization does not work, without the underpinnings of a Judeo-Christian worldview.”

Former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he departs after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, Saturday, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he departs after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vought also has ties to William Wolfe, who served under Trump at both the Pentagon and the State Department and has repeatedly self-identified as a Christian nationalist in the past. In January of last year, Vought posted on X that he was “proud to work with (Wolfe) on scoping out a sound Christian Nationalism.”

It’s unclear how such beliefs would translate into policy recommendations in a second Trump administration. Although Trump appealed to Christian nationalism during his White House spell four years ago, the ideology was often expressed by evangelical Christian leaders, and particularly charismatic and Pentecostal preachers, whom he enlisted as informal advisers.

In the 2024 campaign so far, versions of the ideology have echoed conservative nationalist movements abroad, such as policies promoted by Hungarian President Viktor Orban that have been widely decried as anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ. Several of Trump’s most prominent backers, including former Fox personality Tucker Carlson, have also framed Orban as a model for traditional Christian values.

While Trump has long forwarded immigration policy proposals his critics have condemned as anti-immigrant or inhumane, his reasoning has not heretofore been explicitly tied to Christian nationalism. But Vought’s thinking may provide a religious justification for Trump’s policies: In an April 2021 editorial for Newsweek titled “Is There Anything Actually Wrong With ‘Christian Nationalism?,’” Vought wrote, “ … Once stripped of its superimposed liberal scar tissue, ‘Christian nationalism’ is actually a rather benign and useful description for those who believe in both preserving our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and making public policy decisions that are best for this country.” 

The piece defended nationalism as an effort to preserve “the cohesiveness of a particular people and a cultural inheritance,” and Christian nationalism as an “orientation for engaging in the public square that recognizes America as a Christian nation, where our rights and duties are understood to come from God and where our primary responsibilities as citizens are for building and preserving the strength, prosperity and health of our own country.”

According to Politico, Vought recently defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border that was overwhelmingly condemned by religious groups.

Whether or not Vought’s think tank has a policy prescription for introducing Christian nationalism, he has signaled enthusiastic support for the general concept. On a podcast episode hosted by U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee in October, Vought said: “The first priority of our organization is to regain a notion in this country, a consensus, that we’re not a secular country. We are a Christian nation, as founded, and that should be shared by everyone — even if they have religious liberty for another faith.”

A month earlier on a podcast hosted by Founders Ministries, Vought said the United States “has to obey God, and there is only one true God — and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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