Donald Trump, against all odds, earned the trust of evangelical voters in his two presidential campaigns. Can he keep it as he tries for a comeback in 2024?
Can Donald Trump Keep Evangelicals?
One of the underrated aspects of Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2016 was that this lifelong libertine who was known for high-profile extramarital affairs and had little comfort in speaking the language of Christianity managed to gain the trust and support of evangelical Christian voters.
But now, there are saying that this relationship is fraying in the early going of Trump’s third presidential campaign.
Trump Has a Problem
First, Donald Trump blamed “the abortion issue” for the GOP’s underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterm elections and said the anti-abortion movement shouldn’t have insisted on no exceptions for rape or incest. And then, in January, the former president accused evangelical leaders of disloyalty, after many of them were slow to back his latest presidential bid.
“Nobody has ever done more for Right to Life than Donald Trump. I put three Supreme Court justices, who all voted, and they got something that they’ve been fighting for 64 years, for many, many years,’” Donald Trump said in a January interview with conservative journalist David Brody. “There’s great disloyalty in the world of politics and that’s a sign of disloyalty,”
“The key to that breakthrough was Trump’s success in carving a new fault line in the GOP primary electorate. Traditionally, a critical divide among Republican voters has been between those who identify as evangelical Christians and those who do not,” CNN said of Trump’s 2016 success.
“But Trump in 2016 split the GOP electorate more along lines of education, drawing commanding support from voters without a four-year college degree, whether or not they identified as evangelical Christians. Trump’s big margins among those non-college evangelicals proved critical in allowing him to win a series of culturally conservative states, especially across the South, that Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s principal rival on the right in 2016, had expected to propel him to the nomination.”
Trump even once said “I love the poorly educated,” back in February of 2016.
A Slow Slide?
There are indications, per CNN’s Ronald Brownstein, that Donald Trump is losing support from Republican voters with four-year degrees. Those blue-collar evangelical voters will be all the more crucial in 2024.
And while it is evangelical leaders who have been slow to back Donald Trump, and were therefore met with accusations of disloyalty, how such voters themselves feel remains to be seen.
“Those skeptical attitudes mean that to hold off the challenge that may develop from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, among others in a field of uncertain size, Trump likely will need to maximize his support among the non-college Republicans who have always comprised his most ardent backers,” the analysis said. “And in many Republican primaries, a substantial portion, sometimes a majority, of those non-college GOP voters identify as evangelical Christians.”
At the same time, the evangelical portion of the electorate appears to be getting smaller.
“Evangelical White Protestants have been steadily shrinking in society overall: in results to be released later this month, the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute will place them at just under one-seventh of the adult population, down from nearly one-fourth in 2006. But they remain a much more significant component of the GOP coalition,” the analysis said.
In both the 2008 and 2012 Republican nomination contests, CNN noted, it came down to a candidate with evangelical support (Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, respectively) and one without much (John McCain and Mitt Romney).
In both cases, the latter won the nomination, with both going on to lose to Barack Obama.
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Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.