Debate Among Evangelicals Suggest Softening of Their Support for Trump

Florida Evangelicals Explain Why They Can No Longer Vote For President Trump

On August 15, a small group called Fed Up New Yorkersbased in Donald Trump’s home state, where people know him best—used ads on Facebook to post a memorandum to Evangelical voters. The message was blunt. We challenged these people of faith to compare their support for the president with the values their religion teaches. And to make two judgments: Would this discredit their religious communities as a political and moral force? And what would it mean for their children’s future?

Responses were swift and surprising. To be sure, plenty of people fervently, or angrily, defended their support for Trump. But many more argued that Trump’s behavior, regardless of what beliefs he might claim to hold, was directly contrary to how they understood Christianity and what Jesus said in the Gospels.

This jibes, it turns out, with recent polling that shows a sharp drop in white Christians’ favorable views of the president. As early as mid-May, Trump’s support among white Evangelical Protestants was starting to slip. A Pew Research Center poll found that this group’s positive opinion of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic had fallen six points since March, from 81 to 75 percent. By comparison, white Catholics’ favorable opinion of Trump’s handling of the pandemic slipped from 62 percent to 55; Black Protestants’ positive impression dropped from a meager 26 percent to an abysmal 19.

The comments on our Facebook posts partly bear this out: some commented on Trump’s bungled response to the coronavirus. But by far, the responses the most critical of Trump focused on more deep-seated issues: his character, his dishonesty, his misogyny, his racism and hostility to immigrants.

Here’s where we should state for the record who wrote our memorandum to Evangelicals, which was headlined, “Remember Your Values, Protect Your Influence, Think About the Children.” The author was Neil Fabricant, the founding president of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. He has worked on both sides of the political spectrum. In the early 1970s, Fabricant had been a counsel to the New York State Senate’s one-time Republican majority leader. That was then. “That Republican Party began to die a long time ago,” he said. “Today, nobody would recognize it. Today’s GOP is merely an instrument of one deeply troubled, desperate man’s ambition to hold onto power permanently and by any means necessary.”

On that issue, the responses below were all written before Sept. 23, when the president made his ambition clear in this exchange with a reporter at a White House press briefing.

Reporter:  “Win, lose, or draw in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transferal of power after the election?”

Trump: “We’re going to have to see what happens. We want to get rid of the ballots, and we’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

These were also written before “The Atlantic” magazine’s Sept. 29 report on Trump’s frequently expressed private disdain for the beliefs and practices of his religious supporters. Before his jaw-dropping performance in the Sept. 29 “debate” opposite Joe Biden. And before his diagnosis and hospitalization with COVID-19.

Fed Up New Yorkers’ editor and website manager, John Meyer, is a semi-retired journalist who has lived and worked in North Carolina since the 1970s. He observed, “Evangelicals have been the president’s stoutest supporters, among the respectable segments of the population, anyway. That leaves aside such allies as Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin and some extreme right-wing and white supremacist groups. Hoping we could change at least some evangelicals’ minds in a couple of swing states,” Meyer explained, “we set out to learn how strong their support for Trump really was. We’ve tried to persuade them that reelecting him was antithetical to their stated beliefs and values. We were surprised to learn how many of them agreed with us, and vigorously argued against the die-hard Trump fans.”

Exit polls from 2016 show that around 85% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Clearly, after seeing what a Trump presidency really means, many are having second thoughts.

Judging from the reaction to our essay, a groundswell of opposition to Trump seems to have emerged among the very Evangelicals whose loyalty is crucial to his reelection. That’s certainly true in the two key battleground states we’re targeting, Michigan and Florida. Trump’s political strategists have to be alarmed at any softening of this group’s support. Consider two key statistics: In 2016, only 26 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots for Trump. And of those who did vote, white Evangelicals amounted to more than 20 percent.

Also, a demographic shift since 2016 may be significant for this year’s election. The Public Religion Research Institute reports that white Evangelicals’ share of the population has declined by two percentage points, standing now at 15 percent.

Our Memorandum to Evangelicals seems to have touched a nerve. With that post alone, the shoestring Fed Up New Yorkers operation has reached more than 13,000 Evangelicals in Florida and 15,000 in Michigan, of whom more than one in five clicked through to the full article. It has inspired more than 1,600 comments, and as of this writing in early October, 638 viewers have shared the link with their own Facebook “friends.” Though this is not a scientifically constructed opinion poll, our sample size dwarfs the numbers that political polls reach. The social-media comments, “likes” and “shares” offer some insight into those 28,000-plus voters’ thinking. Presumably, these opinions aren’t very different from those of evangelicals in other states.

Among the pro-Trump comments, we have retained the original punctuation, as well as some commenters’ ALL CAPS emphasis. (In our opinion, the internet equivalent of yelling.)

ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHAT BEING ‘PRO-LIFE’ SHOULD MEAN

A common theme among those who remain firmly committed to Trump was a fierce hatred for the “baby-killing” Democratic Party. Countering this were arguments that Christian concern for the helpless shouldn’t end at birth.

Kimberley Stewart: “This Evangelical cares more about children than Demon-crats. President Trump is pro-life. That is all the reason I need. Since Roe vs Wade, 60 million children have been murdered. I love president Trumps policies. I voted for him the first time and will again. All the demon-crats schemes just don’t work out the way they want. He has God’s Army behind him. ‘He who has no sin cast the first stone.’”

Karen Malloy: “Odette Winne you pray hard before you vote for the most PRO-ABORTION TICKET In History! Planned Parenthood Endorsed Joe Biden! Kamala Harris has marched with Planned Parenthood! Both are for FULL-TERM ABORTION! DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS EVIL AS HELL!”

Odette Winne: “Karen Malloy I will pray hard. And realize both parties are full of evil. I believe losing this country as a beacon for the rest of the world would cause a lot more death and suffering than one law that will more than likely not change under either party. Many more people will die around the world under Trump’s authoritarian world.

“I ask people who are only voting for Trump because of abortion, if they think the unborn are the only ones God wants to protect. Forget about the lives of the living now, Trump has let so many die due to neglecting a virus, he incites violence and ignoring climate change. I believe God wants us to love each other, Trump only loves his followers, and only to the point of his benefit.”

EVANGELICALS AS SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES

Some of the most interesting debate concerned the relationship between Biblical admonitions to help the poor and helpless and the supposed evils of socialism, by the state does the helping.

Karen Jarvis: “THE CHILDREN ARE MUCH MORE IN DANGER OF A SOCIALISTIC GOVERNMENT THAN COVID 19!! HATRED for this current administration will make bad decisions at the voting polls. Hatred and wisdom does not occupy the same mind. When you vote will you be voting for SOCIALISM/ GOVERNMENT CONTROL.

“And they will be willing to take YOUR FREEDOM to give you all that THEY THINK you need. Who pays for FREE STUFF.?? YOU the taxpayer! The government is BROKE!! Saying they are Liberal hardly touches the truth of their desires for American.”

Phillip Paul: “Karen Jarvis, blah blah blah the same old conservative rhetoric about socialism and government control, social security and Medicare are socialism I guess you are ok with not getting either of those programs, this country has had many democratic presidents and congressional majorities in the 244 year history of the United states and we are not a socialist or communist country yet go figure!!”

Sanita Teitloff: “Some will have a change of mind when they lose Paid in-Social Security and Medicare. Trump payroll tax cut funds both these programs. Trump did say if reelected he would make these payroll tax cuts permanent that would leave all of us older people without money and medical we paid years into. When peoples’ grandparents, mother and father lose these funds maybe they will see Trump is and was a Danger to USA and the world. Satin does use people for harm to others!! A lot of people don’t’ even know that Trump has an open rape charge on a 13- year old child now. Sad part some don’t care. Fact Check it. Christ like? I think not. We seem to live in a world where truly a lot love darkness rather than light. I pray for all of us. Christ Will Return and he will judge not me. 🙏 🙏 🙏

For many Trump supporters, the issue of abortion and the Democrats’ supposed intention to install a socialistic government are connected.

Glenda Gamez: “If you vote for Biden who believes in murdering babies and a socialist Government, against the Bible, how can you call yourself a Christian?”

In the back and forth, the two sides rarely agree about the facts.

Sarah Anderson: “Read the Bible it tell us how to treat each other. Not the way Trump treats people. Look at the way they have treated children and still got them all in cages.”

Nancy Ward: “Sarah Anderson That is an absolute lie, NO one is CAGED, UNBELIEVABLE THAT YOU ARE SO I’LL INFORMED. AND SPEAKING OF HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE, HOW ABOUT ALL THE INFANTS THAT THE DEMS THINK IS OK TO KILL, NOW, EVEN UP AND TO DELIVERY TIME. PLEASE DO THE RESEARCH AND LEARN WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING AND ASK GOD TO REVEAL THE TRUTH TO YOU.”

Readers can see all of the commentary and make their own judgments. CLICK HERE to go to our Facebook post and the comments.

As to why so many Evangelicals are so singularly focused on abortion, it’s worth understanding that this is the culmination of a systematic Republican campaign to create a powerful “wedge” issue. That began almost fifty years ago, even before Roe v. Wade. CLICK HERE to catch up on that history.

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