Why Is Donald Trump Receiving So Much Support From Evangelicals?
Although there are a number of reasons for Evangelical voters to not vote for misogynistic billionaire and presidential candidate Donald Trump, his early success in attracting the interest of some Evangelicals has many wondering, what is "The Donald's" appeal?
Even though Trump previously supported abortion, has liberal views on gay marriage, often makes derisive remarks about women and has publicly proclaimed that he doesn't seek God's forgiveness, the self-proclaimed Presbyterian has had no trouble in garnering a plurality of support from Evangelicals, according to two published polls.
Although it would seem to make more sense for Evangelicals to get behind God-fearing politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or former Southern Baptist pastor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, it was Trump who finished first among white Republican-leaning Evangelical voters with 20 percent in a July Washington Post-ABC News national primary poll. In a recent Monmouth University poll of Evangelical voters in Iowa, Trump finished second (behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson) with 23 percent of the Evangelical vote.
In an op-ed for Fox News, Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, a frequent political commentator, argued that Evangelical conservative Christians are not hypocrites for supporting Trump, a profit-driven man with sparse church attendance who has been divorced three times.
Jeffress argues that Evangelicals who support Trump for president display nothing more than a realist attitude resulting from the presidency of Barack Obama.
"In a perfect world, Evangelicals would love a truly born-again candidate who possesses both a maturity of faith and all the requisite leadership skills necessary to solve the nation's ills," Jeffress wrote. "But as they survey the landscape of 17 possibilities, a majority of Evangelicals cannot find one candidate whom they believe possesses both attributes."
Jeffress was incorrect to say a majority of Evangelicals support Trump. In a large field, Trump is winning a plurality of white Republicans who identify as Evangelical or "born again," but roughly four out of five of those Evangelicals say they prefer a candidate who is not Trump.
"Think of it this way. If you were in a jetliner nose-diving toward the ground because the crew was incapacitated and you had only two choices of whom to hand over the controls, whom would you select: a novice pilot who had only flown a single-engine propeller plane several times or a pastor?" Jeffress continued. "You'd probably ask the beginner pilot to use his acquired skills to fly the plane and ask the pastor to pray."
Jeffress added that the Evangelical support for Trump in 2016 has a lot to do with Obama setting a low standard for "spiritual expectations" in the White House.
"No Evangelical I know is expecting Trump to lead our nation in a spiritual revival. But seven years of Barack Obama have drastically lowered the threshold of spiritual expectations Evangelicals have of their president," Jeffress argued. "No longer do they require their president to be one of them. Evangelicals will settle for someone who doesn't hate them like the current occupant of the Oval Office appears to."
Tony Perkins, president of the social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council, offered his reason as to why Trump has garnered support from certain Evangelicals in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly. Perkins explained that Evangelicals have gotten so disenfranchised with the moderate Republican leadership that they are looking for someone bold enough to take a stand and speak his mind.
"Evangelical voters are more complex than people give them credit for," Perkins said. "They don't vote just for who goes to church on Sunday. They vote for someone who they feel confident will lead this nation forward."
"Donald Trump is the result of a Republican leadership here in Washington, D.C. that has been playing political footsies with Barack Obama rather than fisticuffs," Perkins added. "People are tired of it, and that includes Evangelicals."
CBN News political correspondent David Brody wrote in an op-ed that for some Evangelicals, infatuation with Trump stems from the candidate's brutal honesty.
"They like his boldness. They relate to him because when they've been bold about their faith they get blasted too. It's a kinship in a strange sort of way," Brody wrote. "Here's the point with Evangelicals: they'd rather someone be honest about their views about God. The honesty resonates with them and you know what Evangelicals will probably end up doing? Instead of hating Trump, they'll put him on a church 'prayer chain' and get on their knees themselves and pray that Donald Trump draws closer to God through this process."
Yahoo News senior editor Amy Sullivan offered that after two terms of Obama, Evangelical voters are more willing to put aside their religious barometers and vote for someone who can simply beat the Democratic candidate in the general election.
"And while Evangelical Republicans sometimes have different priorities and values than their non-Evangelical peers, this could be an election cycle in which they vote as Republicans first and Evangelicals second," Sullivan wrote. "In the same way, it was hard to identify specific motivations for Catholic voters in 2008 — exit polls showed that Catholics who voted for Obama were concerned about the economy and jobs, just like voters in general."
Although Trump has done well enough to finish first and second in the aforementioned polls, it can be interpreted from those polls that Trump has only garnered only about one-fifth of the Evangelical vote, meaning about four-fifths of Evangelicals support other candidates.
Jeffress points out that Trump's support among Evangelicals is mostly limited to Evangelical churchgoers, not pastors and other Evangelical leaders. World Magazine recently surveyed 94 Evangelical leaders. Only four respondents in the survey said they supported Trump, while 40 percent of the leaders supported Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
"The Donald should not be discouraged by those numbers," Jeffress said. "There is often a disconnect between pastors in the pulpit and people in the pews."
Trump will continue making appeals to Evangelical voters as he is set to hold a meeting with over 30 Evangelical leaders headed by Paula White on Sept. 28.