Some of the nation’s top Christian leaders believe President Donald Trump will once again enjoy the strong backing of evangelicals in 2020, noting he now has a record, and not just promises, to run on.
The Western Journal spoke with Rev. Franklin Graham, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Concerned Women for America president Penny Nance, American Values president Gary Bauer and Christian Broadcasting Network chief political analyst David Brody to gauge their views on why Trump enjoyed such strong evangelical support in 2016, and how he looks with these voters going into the 2020 election.
According the Pew Research Center, Trump carried white “born-again/evangelical Christians” by a whopping 81 to 16 percent in 2016.
That margin for the Republican candidate was a 3-point improvement over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s performance in his match-up against former President Barack Obama in 2012 and a 7-point jump over the late Sen. John McCain’s showing when he ran against Obama in 2008.
Trump also carried more of the mainline Protestant and white Catholic votes than either Romney or McCain, while he bested Romney and tied McCain (at 26 percent) among Hispanic Catholics.
Pew reported that white “born-again/evangelical Christians” made up a consistent 26 percent of the electorate overall in the last three presidential races.
— Patrick Schreiner (@pj_schreiner) November 9, 2016
The faith leaders who The Western Journal interviewed indicated Trump continues to enjoy the strong backing of this key demographic because he has been a man of his word.
“He’s fulfilled his promise as it relates to conservative judges,” the evangelist added. “He’s put two Supreme Court justices so far on the bench that are conservative. He’s appointed a number at lower courts. I hope that he’ll be able to do even more in that area, because that will have an impact on my childrens’ lives. If we have the right judges, it will benefit all of us.”
Perkins — whose group, Family Research Council Action, hosts the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. — shares this assessment.
“The record is pretty clear on the life issue. [Trump] has been, arguably, the most pro-life president since Roe v. Wade,” Perkins said
He contended that going into the 2016 election, evangelicals were “optimistic” based on the candidate’s promises, but now his record is strong not only on the sanctity of life, but on judges and religious liberty too.
“I think going into 2020, they are actually enthusiastic or will be given the track record that this president has established, thus far,” Perkins said.
His group’s polling shows Trump’s support among politically engaged evangelicals remains consistently high.
Brody, co-author of the 2018 book “The Faith of Donald J. Trump,” argued that the former New York businessman has actually over-delivered on his promises to Christians.
“There is no doubt he has over-performed when it comes to the expectations that evangelicals had for this president,” Brody said. “They were hopeful and they thought he would deliver, but he’s done more than just deliver. He just in a way kind of delivered on steroids.”
“The enthusiasm is still there for Trump,” according to the reporter. “It is kind of interesting that Donald Trump has become a culture warrior for evangelicals.”
Nance believes conservative women were looking for an outsider in 2016 who was willing to “put a knife in his teeth and swim the moat” to go shake up Washington, and they found that in Trump.
“They very strongly wanted and want someone who will take charge, who will keep their promises and who will stand for life,” she said.
“I can tell you after having gone all over the country — Women for Kavanaugh bus tour of over 10 states, attending many public events including state fairs and really talking to women all over the country — his support is rock solid,” Nance added.
She also identified Trump’s record of appointing pro-life judges to the federal courts, signing tax cuts into law (which included doubling the child tax credit), upholding religious liberty and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as other issues important to conservative women.
“And they’re very loyal,” Nance said of conservative women.
Bauer — chief domestic policy adviser under President Ronald Reagan — observed that Trump turned Republican orthodoxy on its head when it comes to addressing divisive social issues.
The Republican establishment has encouraged candidates and officeholders to pivot away from topics like abortion.
“Trump gets up in the morning thinking how he can engage in the culture battle,” Bauer said.
“We elected pro-life presidents before, and other than Reagan who did periodically, most of the people we’ve elected including some senators and others, they never wanted to actually make the argument for the sanctity of life,” he said.
“Donald Trump wants to have that argument,” Bauer said. “Donald Trump in 2016 literally asked his staff going into a debate with Hillary Clinton, ‘How can I make sure the abortion question comes up even if it isn’t asked by the moderator?’ Because he understands the power of the pro-life argument for Americans who go back and forth on the issue.”
That willingness to engage in the good fight has “really endeared him with many evangelicals,” according to the conservative leader.
Brody, who has interviewed Trump more than 20 times over a 10-year period, noted that the president is very comfortable around evangelicals.
He chose one as his vice president in Mike Pence, while others in his administration like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and outgoing press secretary Sarah Sanders are very open about their Christian faith.
Brody recalled Trump telling him that he had no significant interface with evangelicals prior to running for president.
“None of these people would even be in my life, if I wasn’t running for president, and I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now. I was just a businessman in New York, and I don’t normally come across any of these people,” Trump reportedly said. “But because I ran for president, now all of the sudden I met people in my life, I would have never met before.”
He’s very thankful to have them in his circle, according to Brody.
Some of the faith leaders mentioned that one way to measure presidents (or people in general) is to take stock of the company they keep, and Trump gets high marks on that count.
“This Cabinet is more reflective of the evangelical community in America than any other Cabinet we’ve had,” Perkins said.
All the leaders also acknowledged that Trump’s at times uncouth, bombastic behavior on Twitter and elsewhere can be off-putting to evangelicals, but pointed out the Bible is filled people God used, like King David, who had significant shortcomings.
Bauer argued that Trump is the right man for the times.
“I’ll sometimes hear people say, ‘Boy, I’m really happy with what President Trump’s doing, but I wish his demeanor and so forth was more like Ronald Reagan,’” Bauer said.
“Well, Ronald Reagan was exactly the right kind of conservative candidate in the 1980s,” he continued.
“Ronald Reagan, in my view, would not be able to win in America today, because his demeanor was so kind and gentle. But we’re living in an era when the left is willing to destroy people that stand up against them in ways that in the 80s, those of us in the Reagan administration couldn’t begin to imagine,” he added.
“And it takes somebody like a President Trump to be able to fight back and prevail against that kind of pressure.”
Nance suggested evangelicals and others who take offense at Trump’s manner should consider extending him grace.
“In a weird way, it’s almost helpful that we don’t think he’s an evangelical doppelgänger,” Nance said. “We think that he is a man on a journey, like all of us. Our expectations for him aren’t the same as ourselves and each other, because we think he’s still growing, still learning.
“And while he’s on this journey, we are incredibly grateful that like many leaders in the Old Testament, who were incredibly flawed, he does the right thing and he looks after God’s people.”
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