There is one thing that could tip the balance in an increasingly tight race for the presidency, and it is the one thing that probably will not be mentioned—much less emphasized—during Monday night’s presidential debate. Here’s to hope.

How the Nominees are Preparing for the Debate

The debate is the most significant head-to-head since Carter v. Reagan (1980). The two candidates are taking vastly different approaches in their preparation for it. Their divergent strategies reveal who they are as candidates and what they think of their opponents. Mrs. Clinton and her team are devoting four days to mock debate sessions, while Mr. Trump and his team will do debate drills for only one day.

As the New York Times reported Friday, Mrs. Clinton is preparing for either of the faces Mr. Trump might present: the disciplined debater who casts vision but stays out of the details or the less-disciplined brawler who gives snide nicknames to his opponents. She knows that her greatest asset is her public policy and debate experience, and her greatest opportunity will be to get under his skin enough that he responds in un-presidential ways.

Mr. Trump’s team has profiled Mrs. Clinton by watching more than two decades’ worth of her interviews and debates. This research has helped them to identify body language and verbal tics that give away when she is lying, nervous, or otherwise playing with a weak hand. But more than anything, the Trump team seems to understand that a plurality of American citizens will not be won over by policy minutiae, but by telling an appealing master story, swaying voters’ emotions, using the language of the people, reframing attacks instead of answering them, and showing he’s different than Washington, D. C. insiders.

There are a number of things I’d like to see happen during the debate, and one thing I’d like to see happen more than anything else. Let’s start with a brief enumeration of the “number of things” before we conclude this article with the “one thing.”

Things I Wish Both Candidates Would Do

  • Engage in tough-minded debate about the serious issues at the heart of our nation’s social unrest, economic malaise, and political dysfunction.
  • Refuse to engage in the uncivil and inane behavior that has increasingly polluted our American political conversations.

Things I Wish Mr. Trump Would Do

  • Affirm that every human being has the dignity of being created in God’s image. Mr. Trump should affirm the dignity not only of unborn babies but of black Americans and Mexican immigrants. Even if he draws policy conclusions with which I differ, I’d like to see him stand there in the moment and tell the black and Hispanic communities that they matter to him and to God.
  • Affirm the United States Constitution, including the built-in checks and balances that are supposed to keep one branch from usurping the prerogative of another. He might denounce the SCOTUS majority for bypassing the will of the people (via the legislature) by legislating from the bench in decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges. He might scold President Obama’s use of executive decisions. He might even promise that, if he himself were President, he would avoid succumbing to the authoritarian impulse.
  • Show the nation that he is a disciplined and steady leader who is not easily provoked.

Things I Wish Mrs. Clinton Would Do

The One Thing that Could Tip the Balance

Finally, more than anything else, I’d like for either or both of the candidates to give a full-throated endorsement of religious liberty:

  • Affirm the dignity of every person; affirming the right of each person to draw conclusions about life’s origin, destiny, and meaning; affirming the right to align one’s life with those conclusions; and affirming our right to do so openly and without fear of repercussions.
  • Re-affirm the 1993 Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed by Bill Clinton, introduced by Democratic Representative Chuck Shumer, and passed by a unanimous House and a near-unanimous Senate (3 dissenting votes).
  • Affirm the state-level RFRAs. The federal RFRA was intended to apply to federal and state law, but the SCOTUS majority ruled that it could not be applied to state law (Boerne v. Flores, 1997). Because of the SCOTUS ruling, many states have passed their own RFRAs. Unfortunately, the reigning leftist bias frames these RFRAs as “anti-gay.” The Civil Rights Commission’s Chair, Martin Castro, went so far as to say religious believers hide their real motivation—hatred—behind the veil of religious liberty. (This week, Fox News will be publishing an opinion piece I wrote criticizing Castro and the Civil Rights Commission.)
  • Affirm with Molly Hemingway that “we have a press that loathes and works actively to suppress this religious liberty, as confident in being on ‘the right side of history’ as they are ignorant of natural rights, history, religion, and basic civility.”

Either Religious Liberty or Statism

Religious liberty. In my opinion, it is the one thing for evangelicals that could tip the balance in the 2016 election cycle. It’s very important, more important even than the pro-life cause for the 2016 election. It is the “first freedom.” For without religious liberty, we have nothing. Once religion is removed there is next-to-nothing left to prevent the state from encroaching on every aspect of our lives—art, science, religion, business, and even the family. And encroach it will.



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