As the 2016 White House race unfolded, the Facebook home of one of Princeton University's best-known scholars was packed with cries for help.
The battle lines were clear. Religious conservatives wanted to know if they had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Was picking the "lesser of two evils" still evil? Was it morally wrong to refuse to choose?
Robert P. George made his own convictions clear.
"If you truth bomb Trump but go silent on Clinton, shame on you," wrote George, an outspoken Catholic and distinguished professor of jurisprudence at Princeton. "If you truth bomb Clinton but go silent on Trump, shame on you. Whole truth!" In another salvo he added: "A ghastly choice for Catholics & others: One will taint and bring disgrace on our moral values. The other will wage unrelenting war on them."
With Election Day drawing near, George finally republished a note from June, pleading for charity in these arguments.
"Friends, we are in a terrible fix here. And it is putting some of us at each other's throats. It must not be permitted to do that. Donald Trump is dreadful. Hillary Clinton is horrible. One called for the killing of the innocent family members of terrorists. The other promises to protect the killing of unborn babies up to the point of birth," he wrote.
"For some of us, it just isn't obvious which of these two scoundrels would do greater harm in the long run," he argued. Whatever happens, those "who believe in limited government, constitutional fidelity and the Rule of law, flourishing institutions of civil society, traditional principles of morality, and the like are going to have profoundly important work to do. And we will need to do it together."
Yes, Republicans face what many are predicting will be a "civil war" between Trump insurgents and the party establishment, said George, in a telephone interview. It's also hard to know what will happen to the religious right after some of its elders backed the New York billionaire to the bitter end, no matter how lurid the evidence of his wild past.
What really matters is what happens to people in traditional faiths, including activists who never fit into old organizations led, in most cases, by evangelical Protestants, he said. Do the math. It will be hard for the Washington, D.C., establishment to completely ignore conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Southern Baptists, Eastern Orthodox Christians, traditional Muslims, Pentecostal Christians and others if they form coalitions on key issues.
It's not too late to make a "serious effort to combine religious groups into some kind of effort to defend religious liberty," said George, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The faithful in these faiths are "not going to flee to monasteries and abandon public life. … If the Republican Party falls apart, then they will look for some other vehicle in the future, perhaps another political party that emerges out of the wreckage of this election. It has happened before."
While it's easy to focus on White House executive orders and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, George acknowledged that religious believers face new challenges. For starters, it's clear that leaders of some major corporations -- think Google, Apple, Microsoft and others -- have decided to back the evolving doctrines of sexual liberation over the convictions of those defending centuries of religious teachings and traditions.
It will be hard to "push back" against the Chamber of Commerce, especially in debates among Republicans. However, religious leaders will, he said, at the very least need to plead with corporate elites to "remain neutral on issues affecting religious freedom."
That may sound idealistic or impossible. However, it's important to learn from the past -- even the recent past. George noted, for example, that Trump successfully attacked Republican orthodoxy on trade and corporate issues, but then claimed he had abandoned his history of support for abortion rights.
"Think back to the years after Roe v. Wade, when it appeared there was no way religious conservatives could win on abortion in battles with corporate interests and the Republican Party donor class," he said. "Who won those debates inside the GOP? … This time, Trump knew he couldn't challenge what the Republican platform says on abortion and on religious liberty. He didn't even try. That's important."