Commentary

Trump is doubling down on his evangelical supporters for his re-election

Trump evangelical Christians
Pastor Joshua Nink, right, prays for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as his wife, Melania, watches after a Sunday service at First Christian Church, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in January 2016.Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Donald Trump may be hoping that going to the brink of war with Iran may be just the ticket to re-election. But just in case, he’s revving up his outreach to his favorite group of supporters: conservative white evangelicals.

On Friday, Trump took time out of his golf schedule to go to a Miami megachurch. It was the kickoff for Evangelicals for Trump, a get-out-the-Christian-vote effort – so essentially a campaign stop. The church was the perfect venue for the avaricious president: it preaches a prosperity Gospel where God rewards the faithful with cold, hard cash.

Related: Government shelled out $118 million for over two dozen of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips

At the event, Trump promised everything short of the second coming. He said he would put prayer back in schools and pledged to remove a law that threatens the tax-exempt status of churches that contribute to political campaigns.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Trump event without the usual middle-school bullying. At this event, his target of choice for mocking was Pete Buttigieg, the gay Democratic presidential candidate, for having a hard-to-pronounce name. He also proclaimed that Democrats were “tearing down crosses and symbols of faith and banning religious believers from public life.”

Buttigieg is a regular churchgoer, which is more than can be said for Trump. The president is more likely to sue God than worship him. However, he knows to employ exactly the kind of rhetoric that will resonate with believers convinced that they are engaged in a holy war.

What Trump believes in most is transactional politics – you do for me, and I’ll do for you. In return for evangelical support, he has given the religious right virtually everything it has longed for. 

The problem for the president is that, in the process, he’s alienated a lot of voters who were with him in 2016. In particular, suburban women are turned off by Trump’s vulgarity and sexism, putting his re-election at risk.

So Trump is trying to maximize his evangelical turnout. Having got more than 80 percent of the evangelical vote in 2016, there is only so much more that he can expect. Younger evangelicals are not big fans of the president, and there is a small, but sizable liberal evangelical contingent that is disgusted by Trump’s policies.

So every defection is a problem for the president. That’s why his supporters reacted so vehemently to the Christianity Today editorial saying that Trump deserved to be impeached. He can’t afford to lose any of his evangelical base, even a few supporters. If anything, he needs to get more supporters to make up for his polling losses elsewhere.

All of which means that Trump is going to pull out all the stops to endear himself even more to the religious right during the campaign. The right’s idea of ‘religious liberties’ – a.k.a. the right to discriminate – is going to loom large in that equation.  The Supreme Court ruling expected by the end of June will give Trump a chance to rage against secularism or (more likely) take a victory lap. All at our expense, of course.

 

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