Donald Trump’s ties with conservative evangelicals are far stronger now than they were in 2020

Former President Donald Trump makes an appearance at a town hall meeting hosted by the conservative group Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix on June 6, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump makes an appearance at a town hall meeting hosted by the conservative group Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix on June 6, 2024. Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN

Donald Trump has always depended upon conservative evangelicals as his base support. They overcame their concerns about him in 2016, thanks in part to the reassuring presence of fellow believer Mike Pence on the ballot. Trump’s Supreme Court appointments made him a hero for the religious right in 2020.

But now the relationship between the convicted felon and the self-proclaimed moralists has moved to a new and even more frightening level. Buoyed by the fall of Roe v. Wade, conservative evangelicals see a chance to enforce their Christian nationalism ideals on the country. And Trump is perfectly happy to give them every opportunity to do so.

The latest sign was Trump’s appearance last weekend at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “2024 Road to Majority” conference. The meeting is the largest political gathering of the religious right, with Republican leaders showing up to give speeches as homage to those in attendance.

The star attraction was the former president. Trump spoke for an hour in a speech that mainstream media described as “rambling,” a euphemism for what looked like an audition for a memory care unit.

The main point of Trump’s remarks – besides the detours into “did he really say that?” territory – is that he will bend over backwards to give conservative Christians what they want. To prove it, he endorsed the Louisiana law mandating the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, a clear violation of church-and-state separation.

“I mean, has anybody read this incredible stuff? It’s just incredible,” Trump said. “They don’t want it to go up. It’s a crazy world.”

That was just the tip of the iceberg. Trump promised to “aggressively” protect Christians – or at least certain Christians – if he is re-elected.

“We will protect Christians in our schools, in our military, in our government, in our workplaces, in our hospitals, and in our public square,” he told the crowd.

In doing so, Trump cast himself as not merely the religious right’s warrior but as a martyr to the cause. He said he had “stood up to the communists, Marxists, and fascists to defend religious liberty like no other president has ever done.”

“If I took this shirt off, you’d see a beautiful, beautiful person. But you’d see wounds all over, all over me, I’ve taken a lot of wounds,” Trump said.

“In the end, they’re not after me, they’re after you,” Trump added. “I just happen to be, very proudly, standing in their way.”

While much of the media focused on Trump not giving the attendees everything they wanted on abortion, the fact is there is much more wiggle room to Trump’s position than people give him credit for. Trump hasn’t come out in favor of a national ban, not on any philosophical grounds, but because he has no foundational principles besides his own self-interest. His only concern is turning off voters by going too far.

“You have to go with your heart, but you have to also remember, you have to get elected,” Trump told the crowd. He said he supported exceptions for rape and incest and when a mother’s life is at risk. At the same time, however, Trump called out all six conservative Supreme Court justices by name, thanking them for “the wisdom and the courage they showed” in overturning a woman’s right to choose.

The religious right has a list of specific goals for a second Trump term. They are dramatically more radical than those from the first Trump administration. There are, of course, the usual attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, including banning medical care for trans youth and creating even more exceptions for non-discrimination measures. But all of the efforts have the goal of replacing a diverse democracy with Christian nationalism.

The plan is laid out in Project 2025, the document produced by the Heritage Foundation as a guide for the next Republican president. It’s the religious right’s wish list, right down to declaring “transgender ideology” the equivalent of pornography and a potential criminal offense.

Meanwhile, Trump has made it known that his biggest mistake in his first term was letting himself be surrounded by people interested in governing instead of hacks and ideologues. He won’t make that mistake this time. There will be no one to slow-walk the worst of Trump’s ideas.

Which won’t even be his ideas. They will be payback for the right’s support. That’s why Trump has called Election Day “Christian Visibility Day, when Christians turn out in numbers that nobody has ever seen before.”

At the Faith and Freedom Conference, Trump urged conservative Christians to rush to the polls on Election Day to support him. He even stopped a chant of “USA, USA” to chide the crowd.

 “No USA right now!” he said. “You just go out and vote, then we’ll go USA. Because then we’re going to make our country great again.”

Conservative evangelicals are on a tear to reshape the nation at the expense of the Constitution and even democracy. Trump is happy to oblige because all he cares about is having power. No matter what Christians think, it’s a combination made someplace other than heaven.

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