As the presidential primaries approach, religious advocates believe that Donald Trump, of all Republican candidates, is likely to claim a large majority of the Christian vote.
Republican presidential candidates have been working overtime to impress religious Americans, with many attending the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in June and spending large amounts of time among religious voters in battleground states.
Former President Donald Trump is leading the GOP contenders, and religious leaders who spoke to the DCNF believe his previous record on faith, life and freedom will win him the Christian vote.
Evangelicals, mainly, are keen to see the former president back in office, according to Tony Perkins, the founder and president of the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy organization, that spoke to the DCNF.
“Donald Trump kind of raised the bar, which sounds a little odd on its face, because he certainly was not a candidate when given his background, and everything that evangelicals would have been drawn toward,” Perkins said. “But when you look at how he performed as president in what he did in terms of advancing or restoring policies that respected faith and upheld a moral foundation, no one comes close.”
Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, his infamous, expletive-filled Twitter rants against various media, celebrity and political figures and his more recent trouble with the law might otherwise preclude him from gaining such strong support from religious circles; however, Trump’s policies and stances during his first term as president often resonated with those same voters who have often felt ignored by more mainstream Republicans, according to Perkins.
Trump made waves as the first sitting president to appear publicly at the March for Life, an annual pro-life march in D.C. that usually draws upwards of 10,000 people. In 2019, he announced that his administration was working on creating a new federal policy that allowed religious adoption facilitators, homeless shelters, health care clinics and other organizations to participate in grants from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2017, the former president issued an executive order to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to defend laws like the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” which allows religious Americans to adhere to their faith on issues of same-sex marriage and gender identity and sexual orientation, that was passed in Missouri.
In 2020, Trump took 80% of white evangelical voters in 2016 and 76% in 2020, while a March poll found that in a head-to-head matchup, Trump is currently holding 51% of the evangelical vote over DeSantis’ 42%, according to Reuters.
“I think he’s the undisputed favorite,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and host of the radio show Pathway To Victory, told the DCNF. “I made a prediction shortly after he announced his candidacy last November. I said that eventually, evangelicals would coalesce again around Trump, some of them might try to kick the tires of different candidates, but eventually, they would coalesce. What I didn’t realize was that ‘eventually’ would come sooner than anybody expected.”
Trump is currently leading the pack in the Republican primaries by significant margins, according to Real Clear Politics. The most recent poll from the Economist/YouGov showed the former president winning the nomination spot by 26%.
Despite this, Trump has been trailing President Joe Biden in the polls. One poll from NBC News had Biden beating Trump at 49% to 45% but a new poll by the Morning Consult showed Trump closing the gap at 42% to Biden’s 43%.
Perkins told the DCNF that for Trump to keep up the momentum he will need to “cast a vision of the future” but said that regardless he felt Christians’ inclination was still to vote for the former president due to his previous record on religious issues.
While Trump appears to have a hold on Christian Americans, other candidates have chances at making inroads by focusing on issues like abortion, where the former president has struggled lately.
Tim Head, the executive director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an organization dedicated to “educating, equipping, and mobilizing people of faith,” agreed that Trump has a solid core percentage of the Christian vote, but cautioned that nothing is guaranteed since the election is still many months away.
Head explained that candidates like DeSantis could have an advantage over Trump in the pro-life arena after the former president went back and forth on a federal ban and criticized the governor for signing six-week abortion protections in May.
“Governor DeSantis has a lot of influence in this type of area, and he’s using that influence to deliver victories for religious voters on life, religious liberty [and] certainly on traditional family values,” Head told the DCNF.
Jeffress conceded that in the event that Trump does not become the nominee, he believed Mike Pence would be the one to receive the full support of Christian voters due to his commitment to his faith and his involvement in the Trump administration.
Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of the Family Leader, a Christian advocacy organization in the key primary state of Iowa, told the New York Times that Vivek Ramaswamy, who is Hindu, impressed him despite the difference in faith because he was willing to answer the “deeper questions.”
The odds, however, are against any other candidate taking the nomination, according to Jeffress and Perkins.
“When you look at his four years as president and how he championed all of these issues, and look at how he continues to push back on the left,” Perkins told the DCNF. “He puts himself into a position that many who have been marginalized and attacked by the culture identify with. So I think he’s in a very strong position from this standpoint.”
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