Will the GOP turn away from Evangelical Christians?

Profile view of Donald J Trump, presidential candidate, at the Boca Raton, FL Rally on March 13th, 2016
Donald Trump at a Boca Raton, FL, rally on March 13th, 2016. Photo: Shutterstock

In today’s political landscape, where there is a blurring of church and state, white Evangelicals refer to the Republican party as the party of Trump. As a core constituency of the Republican Party, white Evangelicals revere Trump as their modern-day savior. Trump, however, has made a mockery of Christian values and ideals – like his botched Bible verses and infamous staged photo-op outside St John’s Church in DC during the George Floyd protests in 2020.

Trump’s zealous supporters have compared him to the Bible’s King Cyrus, an atheist who liberated the Jews. His cult-like grip on white Evangelicals has proven their Faustian bargain for power has no moral bottom. However, with Trump’s 37 felony counts related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents hovering over him as he vies for a second term as president, the GOP has to assess if he’s too big of a liability they now need to ditch.

Or will it be that white Evangelicals need to ditch the GOP if a Trump-like candidate doesn’t emerge in the 2024 presidential election? 

What Trump delivered for Evangelicals

Before Trump’s indictment, many Republican leaders who pledged fealty to him for political survival were already distancing themselves. The 37-count indictment has the potential to further fracture the party between die-hard Trump 2024 backers – like Marjorie Taylor Greene, JD Vance, and Senator Lindsey Graham – and moderate Republicans who want their party back. The Republican presidential hopefuls are the first to break rank. The most shocking of them, and what Trump loyalists would call a turncoat, is his former Vice President Mike Pence.

“Let me be clear. No one is above the law,” Pence stated on PBS Newshour. The “handling of classified materials of the United States is a serious matter.”

While many political operatives are trying to inch away from Trump, his everlasting white Evangelical base – churchgoers and voters – loves him. And they still comprise a huge portion of the Republican presidential primary electorate.

Trump won the presidency on the promise he would appoint judges with a Christian worldview. And he delivered. During his tenure, Trump nominated 274 conservative Republicans to federal benches and three to the Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – who would ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump’s Israel policy took center stage when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, a colossal win for Christian dispensationalists – evangelical Zionists who believe that in the Second Coming of Christ, Israel will be rightly restored to its biblical boundaries. He later boasted, “The evangelicals appreciate it more than the Jews.”

Using SCOTUS to justify hate

 Trump’s slogan to “Make American Great Again” was an undisguised dog whistle to his base to keep America a white, heteronormative theocracy. The Supreme Court rulings have worked on behalf of Trump’s evangelicals. The overturning of Roe v. Wade last year was merely the tip of the iceberg.

This year, SCOTUS has struck down Affirmative Action, student locan cancellation, and has made many other misguided rulings, like the 6-3 ruling in 303 Creative LLC v Elenis (made under the guise of religious freedom) that gave a business owner license to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans. The plaintiff, a Colorado web designer who opposed same-sex marriage, contested and won that by requiring her to serve everyone equally, the state was unconstitutionally forcing her to create messages she opposed, violating her free speech rights under the First Amendment.

In a Trumped-up Supreme Court, the uber-conservatives have eroded decades-long civil rights gains and the Constitutional mandate of separation between church and state.

For example, in 2018, SCOTUS ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in favor of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom.

Trans rights in the bull’s eyes

Bigotry works in this political climate. Restricting transgender rights will work for Trump’s evangelical base and help the GOP in the 2024 election. At least 650+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in Congress, with over 400 targeting our trans population. The bills seek to ban trans people from sports, ban gender-affirming surgery, and ban drag queen story hours. HRC has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. 

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor of Religion, told PBS NewsHour. “It’s almost frantic.”

The Republican party has been irreparably transformed by Trump. The party wants to win the 2024 presidency by any means necessary, and the January 6th insurrection was proof. The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in a hypothetical match-up. “Any Republican who wanted to cross the finish line would have to kneel at the feet of the evangelical base, ” Balmer said. The GOP can verbally trash Trump and even ditch him. However, they are still under his yoke because they need his base to win. 

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