The nation’s intense focus has been on former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and his stunning loss to Democrat Doug Jones.
And while the media are calling Moore’s trampling a “humiliating defeat” for President Donald Trump — who publicly endorsed the controversial Republican after allegations that Moore engaged in sexual misconduct and sought to date underage girls — it seems the president has something much more dire to worry about than Moore’s campaign and loss: shrinking support among Christians.
This matters, in part, because Trump has aggressively courted evangelicals and conservative Christians, alike. That’s something I learned first-hand when I was called to a private meeting in Trump Tower back in October 2016, where I joined around 30 well-known pastors and conservative figures to hold a dialogue with Trump on various issues of concern.
During that meeting, then candidate Trump made it quite clear that he was looking for Christians’ support at the polls.
If last night’s election proved anything, it proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
And, in the end, many evangelicals across America inevitably chose to vote for him, as they found themselves faced with an intensely difficult decision. These people had a few options to choose from. They could have chosen 2016 Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, who had taken policy stances against their own sensibilities, vote third party, write in a candidate, simply stay home — or, take a chance on the former billionaire businessman and reality TV star.
Many chose the latter. But just 10 months after Trump assumed office and a little over a year after his shocking victory over Clinton, at least two polls show shrinking support for Trump among Christians, specifically evangelicals.
Sure, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants still give him high ratings, but that’s down from 78 percent earlier this year. Catholics, too, are down to 26 percent from 36 percent back in February.
Clearly, this trend isn’t a good sign for the president. It also complicates an oft-times overly simplistic media narrative that seems to present a scenario in which evangelicals, in particular, are universally favorable of Trump.
While a slew of Christian leaders have come out in support for the president – or have, at the least, agreed to be on his faith advisory council — a Public Religion Research Institute poll recently found that white evangelicals are hardly monolithic on this front.
In fact, more are weak Trump supporters (42 percent) than are strong (30 percent). And those who are weak supporters say that it is still possible for them to stop supporting the president, while strong supporters say, in contrast, that there is “almost nothing President Trump could do to lose” their support.
Meanwhile, 11 percent are weak Trump opponents, while 13 percent are strong opponents of the president.
So, it’s pretty complicated, but, to my earlier point, support isn’t universal.
Trump has, of course, taken some actions that have been seen as widely favorable to Christians. Most recently, he became the first sitting U.S. president to designate Jerusalem the capital of Israel — a significant move that elated many evangelicals.
He has also taken a variety of pro-life stances, ranging from signing a law in April that would allow states to deny family planning funds to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, stripping $32.5 million in funding from a U.N. agency over abortion and sterilization concerns and reinstating Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy — a ban on federal funding or aid to international nonprofits that provide or promote abortion by offering patients information about the procedure.
Trump also sent a September tweet defending Texas churches in their quest to secure post-disaster FEMA funds and has repeatedly affirmed his quest to push back against the so-called War on Christmas (the White House Christmas card avoided the more general “happy holidays” sentiment and mentioned “Christmas” by name).
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
These moves have certainly helped some people feel more comfortable with Trump, but it’s clear that some evangelical support for the president is eroding.
One theory is that viable policies are wonderful, but that tone and character actually do matter to many of these voters. This is not meant to be a slam on the president, but it’s clearly evident that his sometimes unrestrained Twitter feed has become a problematic feature of his presidency.
Don’t just take my word from it. A poll back in October found that 70 percent of the public wants him to stop tweeting from his personal account. Yes, really.
From boisterous social media quips to controversial proclamations, it’s likely that some of the people who took a chance on Trump are now disenchanted, as he hasn’t toned down much of his rhetoric since his electoral victory as some previously expected he would.
Politics is certainly dirty, but any Christian who takes James 3 seriously knows that words matter. Over time, it’s possible that this dynamic of unrestrained rhetoric has simply worn on people.
Just for reference sake, James 3:3-6 reads: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
Trump’s job rating has declined among several groups that gave him relatively high ratings in February, including older adults, white evangelicals and whites https://t.co/IWvyBLk9iB pic.twitter.com/bG0Zn2PHnt
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) December 7, 2017
It’s also possible that on a purely political front, Trump hasn’t delivered on some of his promises and that this, in turn, has contributed to some of the erosion, which, in fairness, has been seen across multiple cohorts.
Either way, Trump’s 17-point loss in support among white evangelicals should be setting off alarm bells, especially as 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential campaign inch closer and closer.