Is Trump losing support among evangelicals?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening 

Christianity Today, a prominent evangelical magazine, published an editorial last week arguing that President Trump should be removed from office. In the column, the publication’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, wrote that Trump is a man of “grossly immoral character” who puts the country in “moral and political danger.”

The editorial received harsh criticism from prominent evangelical leaders. Franklin Graham, whose father, the late Rev. Billy Graham, founded Christianity Today, accused the magazine of a “totally partisan attack” against Trump. Nearly 200 evangelical leaders signed a letter that accused Galli of impugning the “spiritual integrity” of their followers. An editor for one of Christianity Today’s competitors, Christian Post, resigned over an editorial criticizing Galli that he said put the publication on “team Trump.”

Trump has historically garnered strong support from evangelicals, a subset of conservative Christianity often emphasizing the principle of being “born again” into the faith. He received 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election, according to exit polls. This backing has come despite Trump’s personal profile — multiple divorces, accusations of adultery and sexual assault, a proclivity for vulgar language — which is seen as running antithetical to the moral focus of the evangelical faith. 

In the late 1970s, evangelical leaders rallied around Ronald Reagan, helping him ascend to the presidency in 1980. The group has been a powerful force in conservative politics ever since. 

Why there’s debate

Some observers see the Christianity Today editorial as a sign that Trump’s grip on evangelicals may be slipping. The magazine’s editors reported receiving countless messages from readers who “no longer feel alone” in their reluctance to support the president.

Other recent indicators add to that narrative. Influential televangelist Pat Robertson criticized Trump’s decision to allow Turkey to invade parts of northern Syria in October. A recent Fox News poll found that 28 percent of white evangelicals believe the president should be impeached and removed from office. While it’s unlikely conservative Christians would vote for a Democrat in 2020, muted enthusiasm for Trump could prompt some members of this crucial voting bloc to stay home on Election Day, some argue. 

Others have cautioned against overstating any perceived decline in evangelical support for Trump, which some argue has in fact increased since 2016. Despite behavior that many members find objectionable, Trump has delivered on a number of issues that are at the top of evangelicals’ political wish list, including appointing conservative judges, siding with Christians in “religious liberty” disputes and restricting abortion access.

Some experts argue that evangelical support for Trump isn’t subject to the same sort of calculus as typical partisan matters, since backing the president has itself become a matter of faith to many followers.

What’s next

The president’s reelection campaign announced the creation of the “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition late last week. The group will be formally unveiled at a rally in Miami in early January.

Perspectives

Whether it’s faith or politics, evangelicals won’t give up on Trump

“Mr. Trump’s evangelical defenders may truly believe he is anointed, or they may just relish the unparalleled authority he has granted them. Either way, this actual mainstream of American evangelicalism is not likely to give up on its divine leader, or on its newfound power, no matter what the impeachment proceedings uncover.” — Sarah Posner, New York Times

The public conversation ignores large numbers of politically inactive evangelicals

“There are likely tens of millions of politically inactive evangelicals in America. These people may be as regular churchgoers as many evangelical Trump supporters, but in most stories about evangelicals, nonvoters might as well not exist.” — Thomas S. Kidd, Dallas Morning News

Trump has given evangelicals the policies they want

“Although evangelicals preach family values and often claim moral superiority, history reveals that they are most interested in exercising political power and identifying politicians who help them do it. Evangelical leaders are sophisticated and pragmatic: Policy outcomes are what they really care about.” — Matthew Avery Sutton, Washington Post

Support for Trump may harm evangelical influence in the future

“Has this generation of largely white male evangelical pastors and personalities destroyed their credibility by attaching themselves to Trump? Have they driven away a generation of young parishioners watching them all bathe in hypocrisy as what they teach in the pulpit is not what they practice in the public policy arena? I think the answer is a resounding ... yes!” — Sophia A. Nelson, USA Today

To some evangelicals, Trump’s brashness is a bonus

“Whatever Trump’s moral failings, he’s a street fighter suited for an era of political combat. Christian conservatives believe — rightly or wrongly — that they’ve been held back by their sense of righteousness, grace, and gentility, with disastrous results. Trump operates without restraint. He is the enemy they believe the secular deserve, and perhaps unfortunately, the champion they need.” — Ezra Klein, Vox

Evangelicals are more loyal to the conservative movement than Trump himself

“My gut says white evangelicals will jump when and if Fox News does. Any movement, if we see it, isn’t going to come from within their religious communities.” — American religion expert Elesha Coffman to Politico

Trump’s backing among evangelicals has grown since 2016

“Whatever reservations they may have had about Trump when he first ran for office have apparently been soothed, either by his full-throated defense of his supporters’ priorities or because these voters resent what they see as unrelenting attacks against him and his administration.” — Emma Green, Atlantic

Squabbling among high-profile leaders doesn’t represent the views of evangelical voters

“There’s a difference between a sphere of evangelical leaders and their organizations — the Tony Perkins, the Franklin Grahams of the world — and the evangelical base, the folks that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.” — Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody to NPR

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