Trump May Be Losing Conservative Christian Evangelical Leaders, But The Base Is Still Enthralled

By Bill Berkowitz | 31 January 2023
Daily Kos

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Donald Trump is pissed that thus far none of the top tier Christian evangelical leaders have endorsed his 2024 campaign for the presidency. While he’s not looking for — nor expecting — support from Jerry Falwell Jr., the now disgraced former President of Liberty University, who was one of the first onboard Trump’s campaign train seven years ago, Trump is wondering where are Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, James Dobson and Robert Jeffress.

Graham, one of Trump’s early supporters, has made it clear that he’s not endorsing anyone in the 2024 Republican primary race, telling CBS News that he’s “going to stay out of it until after the primaries have finished.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas recently hosted Mike Pence, which Trump characterized as “a sign of disloyalty.” “My lack of offering an endorsement had nothing to do with a diminishing enthusiasm of President Trump. I have been his most vocal and visible evangelical supporter since 2015. I just felt like it was a little early to be doing that. And I think the best decision is to keep my powder dry for right now,” Jeffress said, adding that “there may be a time” where his endorsement for Trump “may be more useful than it is right now”.

Two questions might make or break Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign: Will evangelical Christian leaders endorse his campaign as they did in 2016 and 2020?; and, Will evangelical voters continue to overwhelmingly support him?

As of this writing, Trump has been so dismayed by the lack of supported he’s thus far received from evangelical leaders that he’s openly calling out evangelicals. However, writing for Salon, Nathaniel Manderson pointed out that “This relationship [with the base] is not over. The truth is that Trump’s evangelical voters love him, and that love is not going away”.

According to CNN, in an interview with conservative journalist David Brody, Trump slammed the “disloyalty” of evangelical leaders who have thus far withheld public support for his candidacy.

“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,'” Trump told Brody, referring to the Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights in Hobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision last summer.

CNN’s Kristen Holmes, Gabby Orr and Kaitlin Collins reported Trump had “criticized abortion opponents for losing ‘large numbers of voters’ in the 2022 midterm elections, ‘especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother.’ The comments on his Truth Social platform drew sharp retorts from several prominent religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America president Marjorie Dannenfelser, who, in a thinly veiled critique of Trump, criticized Republicans who have advocated for an ‘Ostrich Strategy’ on abortion, preferring to ignore the issue than elevate it in critical elections.

“Trump reaffirmed this sentiment in his interview with Brody, admitting that he advised 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon of Michigan that they would face a tougher path to victory for refusing to support exceptions for abortion restrictions, such as when the life of the mother is at risk. Both candidates eventually lost their respective races. As CNN has previously reported, Trump spent much of the midterm cycle privately griping to aides and allies that the overturning of Roe v. Wade damaged Republicans by elevating the issue and drawing attention away from more favorable topics such as inflation and crime.”

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, who has long been close to the former president, put it bluntly: “There’s no path to the nomination without winning the evangelical vote. Nobody knows that better than President Trump because, to the surprise of almost everyone, he won their support in 2016.”

“He’s going to get a very fair hearing from voters of faith. But this will be a contested primary with a lot of pro-life candidates and all of them will get to make their case,” Reed added. “No one should assume the evangelical vote is spoken for or foreclosed to them.”

“Donald Trump has to go,” conservative evangelical Everett Piper wrote for The Washington Times in November. “If he’s our nominee in 2024, we will get destroyed.” Baptists for Biblical Values founder Brad Cranston told the Washington Post that Republicans were better off backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

While some lower profile evangelical leaders have tried to create some distance between themselves and Trump, it’s the higher profile leaders that Trump needs to hold his Christian conservative base together.

So far, Trump’s Christian based is in lockstep behind him. As Nathaniel Manderson, who was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, and ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA, noted,“We have to assume that Trump’s 80% support among evangelicals will remain intact as long as he’s alive and keeps on running for president. Quite frankly, this is a case of reaping what you sow: Evangelical leaders spent so much time and energy convincing their followers that Trump was the chosen man of God, and they can’t take that back so easily.”

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