Is Donald Trump 'morally unfit' to be president?

Character matters in politics, but what kind of character do people want in their political leaders?

That question is raised by the former FBI director James Comey, who has said that Donald Trump is 'morally unfit to be president' in his first major TV interview, for ABC News, since being fired by Trump last year.

Comey, whom Trump has called a 'slime-ball' and 'slippery', said: 'I don't buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president. Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that.'

(Tweeter/Donald Trump)President Donald Trump leads administration officials and guests in prayer at the White House on February 1, 2017.

That Comey is correct is surely not in doubt, and America's evangelical leaders ought to be ashamed of the uncritical support they have offered him throughout his presidency so far, with Franklin Graham's claim on Sunday that Trump 'understands the power of prayer' being just the latest example of sycophantic praise that is, frankly, hard to believe.

Graham, who has said we should give Trump the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rumoured sex scandals, is at least consistent. In an article titled 'Evangelicals sell their souls for Trump' Juan Williams, a contributor to the right-wing Fox News channel since 1997, earlier this year said of the allegations about Trump and a pornography actress: 'When it comes to the Stormy Daniels story, it is hard for me to understand the silence from evangelical Christians.'

The presenter said that evangelicals 'don't care about the word of God when it comes to Trump' and pointed out that if the same story had come out about Barack Obama evangelicals would have condemned the former president as a non-Christian.

Referring to the news that Michael D Cohen, the president's lawyer, said he personally paid $130,000 to Daniels, Williams wrote: 'Let it sink in: It is now confirmed that the president's personal lawyer paid a porn star for her silence...The money changed hands just before the 2016 election to allegedly stop her from talking about a sexual affair with candidate Trump that took place in 2006, just after Trump's wife had a baby. There is no longer any way to deny the fact of the payment and the nature of the tawdry story.'

Williams went on to make the crucial point that had Barack Obama been accused of half of what Trump has, white evangelicals – 80 per cent of whom voted Trump in November 2016 – not to mention evangelical leaders, would have been ferocious and unforgiving in their opposition to the president.

Yet Trump's base, as he likes to point out, appears to be solid. This is partly because, as Christian Today reported yesterday, he has touched people's hearts with a powerful if wholly hypocritical brand of so-called 'Christian nationalism', as a new study has found.

But it may also be because people do not want a pastor as president.

In France, where – as in the US – church and state are formally separated by the constitution, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently came under fire from political and secularist critics after calling for the two bodies to 'mend' their 'damaged' relationship.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, tweeted: 'We expect a president, we get a little priest.'

The comment echoed that of Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor in Texas and leading Trump supporter, who told The New York Times: 'Evangelicals knew they were not electing a choir boy.'

In Britain, too, although church and state are merged, the electorate still appears not to want its leaders to wear religion on their sleeve, hence Alastair Campbell's famous line to an American journalist interviewing Tony Blair: 'We don't do God.' 

No modern US president has been perfect, whether Republican or Democrat: the young, Catholic JFK symbolised hope and jumped deftly onto the bandwagon of the moral case for civil rights, but his private life was highly questionable. Bill Clinton, another practising Christian, likewise, and what polls showed in his case was that the public objected not to the sexual misdeeds but the initial lying. 

In that sense, Comey's appeal for personal morality, although newsworthy, may be whistling in the wind.

But what is striking, as that Fox News presenter pointed out, is that there is something about evengelical leaders' support for this president, that appears to be unbreakable, whatever he does.

Even if the wider public do not care about a president's personal morality, Christian leaders arguably should. Character does matter. But with this president and this set of evangelical leaders, Trump's presidency looks set to run and run.