Since Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president in June of 2015, a lot of people have wondered at Trump’s popularity among evangelical Christians. A man with Trump’s well documented moral failings seems an unlikely choice for a community that railed unrelentingly against Bill Clinton for his moral failures. But evangelical support has, on the whole, remained solid. Trump famously quipped that he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and he would not lose support. This statement, to the surprise of many, turns out to be true. Over the course of the campaign and his presidency, Donald Trump has said and done things that would have doomed almost any politician in our nation’s history up to 2016. But these things have had almost no negative effect on the president’s base of support. Nor have things that his supporters see as his successes grown his base of support. President Trump has divided evangelicals in a way that I don’t think we’ve ever seen, although that division is admittedly lopsided in favor of the president. People have wondered what straw it would take to break the camel’s back, what it would take to lose the support of a historically important Republican constituency. But there is no straw. There is no camel. American evangelicals are firmly and it seems irrevocably wedded to the president. High profile evangelicals, including those in our own denomination, sing his praises. He is, to quote DJT himself, “the chosen one”. Recently Erich Bridges posted a piece on Voices to challenge Christians about DJT’s evident (to the author) racism. Thinking, I presume, that if a reasonable case can be made that the president is, in fact, a racist, it would turn evangelical support away from him. Likewise, Dave posted a piece on the president’s retweeting of potentially blasphemous statements. As always a lively discussion ensued, and this is what we learned: It doesn’t matter. I want to take just a few paragraphs to break down this phenomenon and explain why nothing is going to change. I have separated evangelicals into basic categories and will explain why I think there isn’t going to be any movement.
- Never Trumpers: We can dispense with this group quickly. This group has never supported and will never support the president and so convincing them that he is a racist or blasphemer or (fill in the blank) isn’t going to do anything except reinforce their already negative opinion.
- Racists: I wish I could state that evangelicals and white supremacists do not overlap, and let me state that I think the overlap is very slight, but I think it would be naïve to think we don’t have racists among us. These folks already think Trump is a racist, or at least sympathetic to them. I think the percentage of Trump supporters who are truly racist is very small, but it’s real, and they aren’t moving.
- One Issue Voters: This is another group that can be dispensed with quickly. There are, I suppose, different issues that evangelicals might grab onto as their “one issue”, but race certainly isn’t one of them. For the vast majority, the issue is abortion, and since Trump ran and has governed as pro-life, his alleged racism or any other perceived vice will have no effect on this constituency.
- True Believers: These are the enthusiastic Trump supporters. The ones you see at rallies. These are the folks who think the president is actually honest and truthful, and when he says he won the popular vote, or that President Obama wiretapped him, they believe him. These are the ones who rejoice at every insult, jibe or accusation the president levels at Democrats, the media, or even those of his own party who dare to criticize him. No accusation of immorality, wrongdoing, blasphemy or racism will move these folks because if DJT denies it, they believe it, and that settles it. They aren’t moving.
- Hold-Your-Nosers: These are the reluctant Trump supporters. The ones who acknowledge that the president is pretty much all or most of the things his detractors say he is, but at the end of the day he isn’t a Democrat. This is the lesser of two evils argument and it is not unreasonable. But it also seems like these are the folks, out of all the groups listed, who are most likely to be swayed by a compelling argument that the president is a racist (or a blasphemer). Nope. Still not gonna happen. In economics, there is a phenomenon known as the sunk cost effect. This occurs when someone keeps investing in something they suspect might not pay off, but they stick with it because they don’t want to lose their investment. Reluctant Trump voters have already swallowed a great big steaming pile of corruption and immorality. A little racism or blasphemy isn’t going to tip the scales. All the reasons they had for voting for DJT are still in place, ie: he’s still not a Democrat. They are in too deep to change now.
Now, these groupings are my observations and they are no doubt imperfect. I may well have missed some groupings and there is no doubt some overlap between them. For example, I suspect the race group is a tiny subset of true believers and that one-issue voters are a subset of hold-your-nosers. But I provide them to propose the thesis that evangelicals are so entrenched in their opinions that no matter what the president does or says, past, present or future, that minds are unlikely to be changed. The president has sharply divided evangelicals and that rift is likely to remain in place until the Trump presidency is relegated to the pages of history.
What think you? Am I off base somewhere? Do you think there is likely to be movement among these groups or some that I may have missed? When I say there is unlikely to be movement, I do mean unlikely, not impossible. I personally know some Hold-Your-Nosers who have become Never Trumpers and folks on this board have indicated the opposite. But I believe these to be outliers and not part of a trend. What do you say? Do you think Hold-Your-Nosers will become True Believers? Is there anything that will shake True Believers into a different group? Let’s play nice.
Bill MacKinnon is a regular on this site, commenting under the name “Bill Mac.”