Could Evangelicals Turn on Trump?

Could Evangelicals Turn on Trump? July 2, 2019

I want to engage in a bit of speculation. But before I do, let me set it up with some things that are true. President Donald Trump lies. Politicians in general lie. Trump lies more than most politicians. Does anyone disagree with any of those three sentences? Good, now we are off.

Okay so reasonable people agree that Trump lies like a dead fish. But, is there a group Trump has largely not lied to? Yeah there is. Evangelical Christians (although a case can be made anti immigration activists are a close second). Think about it. Other than defunding Planned Parenthood, Trump has delivered just about everything he could for them. Supreme Court Justices. Reinstating the Mexico City Policy. Strengthening rules for religious freedom. Before the 2016 election, I told my evangelical friends that it was foolish to vote for Trump as they could not trust him to keep his promises to them. I told them that he would take the Republican Party away from their concerns. On this one issue I was wrong (See, I can admit when I was wrong).

Why has Trump, who certainly is not opposed to lying when it serves him, kept those promises? Well it seems to me that the answer is quite simple. When 81 percent of white Evangelicals delivered their vote to him in 2016, he knows that he is president because of their votes particularly in states such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If he wants to win next year, he will need their support again in similar or even higher numbers. And talking with my evangelical friends, I am afraid he is going to get those numbers.

So it is in Trump’s interest to keep Evangelicals happy. Do we really think that he has had a conversion to being pro-life or valuing religious freedom? A few individuals may deceive themselves into thinking that he is a “baby Christian.” But most of us can see that he has not shared any meaningful conversion experience. His loyalty towards the pro-life and religious freedom cause is totally linked to his current political needs. By incorporating pro-life and pro-religious freedom priorities into his administration, he ensures the happiness of Evangelicals and increases his chances to win his presidential election.

One more factor to weigh in before I begin my speculation. Right now the Democrats are debating among themselves whether they should pursue impeachment for Trump. The political calculus is quite clear. Impeachment is there for the taking in the House of Representatives. If the Mueller Report was clear about one thing it was that there is no solid evidence that Trump’s election team colluded with Russia. But without any real evidence of collusion with Russia, conviction in the Senate simply is not going to happen. And without that conviction, it is plausible that they will strengthen Trump’s chances in 2020 by making him look like a victim. Probably the best course for Democrats is to hold back on impeachment and try to win the 2020 election. Going after the King and failing may lead to a Trump administration that does not leave office until 2024. It appears that the major leaders of that party agree with me on that risk.

What if these three things happen? One, Trump wins the 2020 election. Two, the Democrats hold onto the House of Representatives. Three, the Democrats take the Senate. Are each of these events possible? Absolutely. Are they likely to happen? According to Predictit at the time of this writing, Trump has a 44 percent chance of winning, and there is a 28 percent chance of the Democrats controlling the House and Senate after 2020. Basically that means a 1 in 10 chance that these three things will come true. So it is not likely, but it is not impossible. And of course this does not take into account the twists and turns that are certain to occur during a long election season. So it would not be a surprise if we see an increase in the chances of a Trump win and/or Democrat takeover of Congress.

If we wake up the morning after the election with a Trump presidency and a Democrat controlled congress, no one should be shocked. Some may argue that while in isolation the separate Predictit predictions are sound, nevertheless it is unlikely that they would occur at the same time. If Trump wins the presidency, is it possible for the Democrats to hold onto the house and take the Senate? I believe it is. Remember that Clinton did win the popular vote. Trump may well win the proper electoral states to win the White House and the Republicans lose seats in the Senate through states that Trump loses. And they may hold on to seats in the House of Representatives since some of the seats they won are in places that will never vote for Trump, like California.

So what if all of this happens. Okay so let’s speculate. The Democrats no longer can hope to wait for a Trump loss. Unless something happens, we are locked into four more years of a Trump presidency. For many Democrats that is an intolerable prospect. So they now have every incentive to impeach Trump. Even if they do take the Senate, they probably will not get the two-thirds vote they need to remove him from office. But why not take a shot at it right? There is a chance that they may dig up some evidence that makes moderate Republicans nervous about supporting Trump and can cobble together the votes needed to remove him. And there is no need to worry about making him a martyr before the next election. So on the surface it is all upside for the Democrats to try to remove Trump by impeachment.

But from the point of view of Trump everything changes. He has to give the Democrats some incentive not to try to remove him from office. So instead of placating evangelicals, it becomes in the best interest of Trump to placate the Democrats. Now all of the issues about Trump as liar hits home for Evangelicals. They get to experience what it is like to be at the wrong end of a Trump lie. My prediction is that any promises he makes to them to win the 2020 election will go out the window. He will work with the Democrats to pass legislation and appoint justices that they find acceptable. He may ask for some “compromise,” but I think that his fear of being impeached will not put him in a strong bargaining position. For their part, it makes sense for the Democrats to work with Trump since they are not guaranteed that they can remove him with an impeachment effort. They will try to get all they can out of Trump. Doing so will create division within the Republican Party. Then they can hope to prevail against a dispirited Republican party in 2024.

So what will happen if this occurs? All of a sudden Trump is not the chosen one who evangelicals can rely upon to deliver for them. So will they keep defending him as they have done in the past? Will he get a pass for his moral infidelities from the likes of Graham, Falwell and Jeffress? Are you kidding me? Not a chance. They will take this as betrayed lovers and pour out all their anger towards Trump. Their unwavering support of him has been hypocritical, and the hypocrisy will be made complete as they will abandon him in droves.

So why engage in this sort of speculation? After all there is only a ten percent chance that this situation will emerge. But if we do get that Trump presidency and Democratic congress, and Trump begins to work with the Democrats, then does anybody believe that evangelicals will fail to throw Trump overboard? Of course they will. I know I am saying that I am speculating about what evangelicals will do but does anybody really think they will continue to stand for Trump if he works with the Democrats? And the fact that we all know this shows just how certain we are that evangelical support of Trump is rooted in hypocrisy. When I talk about voting for Trump is a short term victory but a long term defeat for evangelicals, this is part of what I mean. Everyone knows that Christians are being hypocrites and that image of Christians as hypocrites is not going away any time soon.

I must say I am not proud of the way some of my Christian friends have distorted reality to defend Trump. Double standards, reliance on shady (even racist) sources, and extreme mental gymnastics are becoming too common among Christians seeking to defend Trump. Do we really think that others will not see this level of conformation bias and self-deception? And yes I know this happens with other groups as well but my responsibility is to my own people. They are the ones I have to call out. If those outside conservative Christian groups do not want to call out the hypocrisy in their ranks, then that is on them.

I believe that Christians should be a check on both of the major political parties. Both political parties tend to adhere to a political philosophy that is socially constructed. What I mean by this is that rather than being driven by some overarching principle, both parties have taken positions on political issues in a manner to serve certain segments of our society. In doing so, it is unlikely that either political party would adopt a set of political positions that are consistent with our Biblical values.

It is sad that I think that many Christians will be willing to operate as that check on Republicans only if Trump starts to compromise on the issues they care about. Then, and only then, they will bring up his lying, race-baiting, sexism and incompetence. Those characteristics have been present in him this entire time, but they will only see it when he is not seen as being on their side. In that, they will clearly show their hypocrisy. Christianity is at its best when it is not beholden to a given political party but rather we stay outside our political parties enough so that we can critique them when necessary. We should have larger expectations of righteousness that we hold up even with those who are our political allies.

My little thought experiment illustrates the degree to which some Christians are tied to the socially constructed philosophy of conservatism. We rightly suspect that they will dump Trump in a nanosecond if he does not abide by that philosophy. The defenses of his character will cease, not because his character has become worse, but because he no longer supports the right issues. Trump is an opportunist. Do we want a Christianity that is also opportunistic? One that politically uses men like Trump and then discards them when they are no longer useful to us? I suspect that to ask the question is to answer it.

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