Once upon a time, the Republican coalition was a sturdy three-legged stool. You had the fiscal conservatives, the national security hawks, and the Christian evangelicals. Especially the evangelicals. The last time the GOP won a presidential race, back in 2004, they basically re-elected George W. Bush. They cast 36 percent of all the votes he got.
But today, they’re deeply split on Donald Trump — just like the fiscal conservatives, the national security hawks, the moderate women, the loyal donors, etc. — and many evangelicals are tempted to skip election day. Yeah, Trump has won a plurality of evangelical voters in most Republican primaries (“Make America Great Again” taps into nostalgia for a culturally conservative America), but that plurality stat doesn’t reflect the community’s internal divisions, or its profoundly mixed feelings.
Two recent comments suggest why evangelicals may not fall in line with the dutiful enthusiasm of their forebears. Heather Dreesman, an evangelical in Nebraska, reportedly said: “I really do feel like in the future I would hate to look back and say ‘I voted for Hitler.’ I feel like that may be what is happening if I vote for Trump.” And Philip Sharp, an Oklahoma pastor, reportedly denounced Trump’s slogan: “I’m sure the Nazis would have said the same thing. You’ve got to be careful when somebody’s trying to ‘make you great.'”
OK, not all of them bring up Hitler. But Russell Moore, a spokesman for the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, is clear-eyed in his perception of Trump as a clear and present danger. Last night, on CNN, he said that evangelicals would be remiss if they stayed silent and fell in line: “I don’t even want my children to watch [Trump]. That’s the burden for a lot of people of faith right now …. When we see the race baiting and the kind of misgyony that we’ve seen all through this year — if evangelical Christians are not willing to stand up [for] decency and morality, [then] we don’t have any credibility left for the future.”
Actually, Moore was restrained last night. On Sunday, he dinged Der Leader for his “reality television moral sewage.” This is milestone stuff. Religious conservatives have flocked to Republican nominees since the dawn of the Reagan era in 1980, with rarely more than murmurs of dissent. How Trump thinks he can win a national election without nailing down this critical Republican base constituency is beyond me.
Better yet, he somehow thinks he can nail down that constituency by insulting that Baptist leader.
Yes, folks, Moore is the latest conservative to feel the lash. Trump’s tweet yesterday: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”
It’s tough to unite a party when you dump on the people you need to woo. And, sure enough, by insulting Moore, Trump managed to infuriate other evangelical leaders. Mark DeMoss, who advised Mitt Romney four years ago, retaliated by saying: “Scorched earth name-calling, insulting and demagoguing does not seem to me to be th way to build a winning general election coalition. Russell Moore thoughtfully represents views and attitudes of millions of people of faith in the country.” And Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said: “An attack on Russell Moore is an attack on the entire evangelical community.”
And Moore’s take on Trump is echoed elsewhere. The influential Christian Post newspaper, which traditionally does not endorse or condemn candidates, has made an exception this year. In a February editorial, it called Trump “unfit” and “dangerous.” It said: “Trump, an admirer of Vladimir Putin and other dictatorial leaders, may claim to be your friend and protector now, but as his history indicates, without your full support he will turn on you, and use whatever power is within his means to punish you. This is a critical time in American history and we call on all Christians to pray for personal repentance, divine forgiveness and spiritual awakening for our nation. It is not the time for Donald Trump.”
So many pastors are worth quoting. Here’s the Rev. Mark Creech, president of the Christian Action League of North Carolina: “(Trump’s) face has donned the cover of Playboy magazine, and he’s bragged about his sexual escapades with numerous women. He’s owned strip clubs, cheated on his wife, and has married three times. It’s not that any of this is beyond the vast scope of God’s grace, but Trump has also said he’s never asked God for forgiveness. Grace is for the repentant….Trump represents everything that is antithetical to Christianity, regardless of what he says or promises at the moment.”
Indeed, Sarah Posner, a journalist who specializes in the religious right, says it best in a piece today: “Many historically Republican evangelicals may stay home, or vote for the Democrat or a third party. It doesn’t mean that the union of America’s evangelicals and the party is over forever. But at least in 2016, many influential voices within the religious right are not interested in entering into a suicide pact with the Republican party.”
Or, as Trump might tweet, “Sad!”