At the Rediscovering God in America conference in 2011, Mike Huckabee gave an impassioned introduction to David Barton, the religious right’s favorite revisionist historian. “I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message,” he said. “And I think our country would be better for it.”
It’s hard to overstate how important Barton has been in shaping the worldview of the Christian right, and of populist conservatives more generally. A self-taught historian with a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University, he runs a Texas-based organization called WallBuilders, which specializes in books and videos meant to show that the founding fathers were overwhelmingly “orthodox, evangelical” believers who intended for the United States to be a Christian nation. Newt Gingrich has called his work “wonderful” and “most useful.” George W. Bush’s campaign hired him to do clergy outreach in 2004. In 2010, Glenn Beck called him called him “the most important man in America right now.” At the end of the month, he’s slated to serve on the GOP’s platform committee at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
But now, suddenly, Barton’s reputation is in freefall, and not just among the secular historians and journalists who have been denouncing him for ages. (I’m among them; I wrote extensively about Barton in my 2006 book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.) Earlier this week, the evangelical World magazine published a piece about the growing number of conservative Christian scholars questioning his work. Then, on Thursday, Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, recalled Barton’s most recent book, the bestselling The Jefferson Lies, saying it had “lost confidence in the book’s details.”