Trump is losing (some) white evangelicals

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Evangelical supporters place hands on and pray with President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

The big religion story of Donald Trump’s presidency has been the support he has received from white evangelicals. It took some doing on his part, because a lot of them initially gravitated to Ted Cruz and other, well, more Christian candidates.

But eventually they came around, thanks to endorsements by some of their prominent leaders, considerable pandering on the candidate’s part, and, perhaps above all, antipathy to Hillary Clinton. In the end, Trump won 81 percent of them — a higher percentage than any other GOP presidential candidate in history, constituting well over 40 percent of his popular vote.

Journalists have found this support something of a mystery as well as a scandal, given Trump’s personal lack of religious knowledge or commitment and his flagrant personal behavior. Since taking office, the persistent question has been: How can this faith community, once emblemized by an organization called the Moral Majority, support such a person?

The answer, it seems, is maybe not as much as we thought. According to a new Pew survey, since February Trump’s job approval among white evangelicals has gone down 17 points, from 78 percent to 61 percent.

This drop is more than twice the size of the decline (39 percent to 32 percent) in Trump’s overall approval rating. Indeed, it is the largest point decline of any demographic group measured in the survey. By contrast, support among mainline Protestant slipped by just three points, from 49 percent to 46 percent.

This is not to suggest that growing numbers of white evangelicals are fixing to vote for whoever the Democratic candidate happens to be in 2020. But disillusionment with Trump — and possibly with an increasingly Trumpian Republican Party — could lead them to stay at home in next year’s midterm elections, which would be very bad news indeed for the GOP.

Ergo, what we see from the president is an effort to gut the Johnson Amendment’s restriction on electioneering from the pulpit; a war on the “War on Christmas”; an endorsement of Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore; and a recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Given Trump’s horrible poll numbers, conventional political wisdom says he should be reaching beyond his base. But his base is shrinking. So he’s laid on an agenda to shore it up.