For Evangelicals, Party Trumps Personalities

For Evangelicals, Party Trumps Personalities October 22, 2015

My co-blogger Thomas Kidd suggests that church-going evangelicals and a group he calls “paleo-evangelicals” (already disaffected with the Republican Party) should desert the Republicans should Donald Trump capture the GOP nomination.

I am in the camp of those who consider that outcome an improbability in two respects. First, despite widespread dissatisfaction with “establishment” politicians, Republicans will probably not nominate a recent convert. Evangelical voters in Iowa will probably deny Trump a victory in that state’s caucuses. The field will narrow considerably by January, and when it is Trump versus one or two credible candidates, the more mainstream Republican candidate will probably prevail. Of course, there is no good reason to misidentify historians for good political prognosticators.

Recent elections have proven that evangelicals have much less clout within the Republican nominating process than they previously supposed. At the same time, there is almost no chance that evangelicals will desert the GOP in droves in 2016 or for the foreseeable future. Simply put, conservative evangelicals have no other viable voting options.

The Democratic Party is not interested. Democratic leaders outside of conservative voting districts will not even pay lip service to evangelical (or conservative Catholic) concerns about abortion or religious liberty.

Indeed, the Democratic Party hasn’t been interested for a long time. From a review of my co-blogger David Swartz’s Moral Minority from several years back:

Swartz offers up two primary reasons for the political failure of progressive evangelicalism. First, the evangelical left fractured along lines of race and gender, much like other progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Unity proved impossible. At the same time, the Democratic Party adopted a stringent pro-choice orthodoxy that left evangelical progressives in the political wilderness. Pro-life but anti-war and anti-poverty, they had no political home. The Republican Party, meanwhile, successfully competed for the votes of politically conservative evangelicals.

Politics is as much a habit as a matter of thoughtful deliberation. Evangelicals are used to voting for Republican presidential candidates, regardless of whom the party nominates. John McCain and Mitt Romney? No problem. If the Republican Party somehow nominated Donald Trump for president, he would promise to appoint pro-life judges and argue that Hillary Clinton (no suspense there) would appoint judges that would trample on the religious freedom of Christians. Perhaps the Republicans would get 75 percent instead of 80 percent of evangelical votes (admittedly, the difference could be significant), and perhaps a percentage of evangelicals would stay home. But I suspect at least three-quarters would vote for Trump.

Major political realignments in U.S. History are rare. When African Americans began voting for the Democratic Party (outside of the South) beginning with the New Deal, they did so not only because Republican politicians ignored their concerns but because Democratic politicians competed for their votes. When white southerners in turn left the Democratic Party, they did so in the midst of a full-court Republican press. In our two-party system, options are limited. Conservative evangelicals who care deeply about abortion and religious liberty might feel alienated from the Republican Party, but the other party doesn’t think it needs their votes and doesn’t want them.


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