Everyone covering Republican presidential politics knows how important a force conservative Evangelical Christians are in that party, particularly in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. So it has become routine to examine GOP politicians for their adherence to various issue positions of presumed significance to these voters, and to their pulpit-based leaders.
That’s still well worth doing at a time when the culture-war issues so closely associated with religious conservatives are red-hot topics in American politics, and of great importance to many of the most likely voters in the Republican presidential primaries. Clearly, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Tim Scott are particularly focused on letting conservative Evangelicals know how committed they are to the battle against legalized abortion, LGBTQ rights, “woke” corporations, and government impingements on “religious liberty.” These candidates are intensely determined to prove they are more faithful to the agenda of the Christian right than their front-running rival Donald Trump.
But there are two major problems with any sort of by-the-numbers effort to flip conservative Evangelicals against Trump. First, these voters have an abiding sense of gratitude for what Trump has already done for them. Second, Trump himself is deeply tied to the religious views of a growing subset of Christian Evangelicals.
As the 45th president frequently reminds conservative Christian audiences, he was the first Republican president to redeem decades of promises to secure the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights. And more generally, Trump discarded decades of embarrassed Republican efforts to downplay cultural issues in pursuit of upscale swing voters favoring moderation and compromise on topics that Evangelicals considered matters of eternal and immutable principle. He was firmly the enemy of the enemies of the people in the pews, and smote them hip and thigh unscrupulously. It will take more than a slightly higher rating on the latest set of litmus tests laid out by conservative religious leaders for mere politicians to match the founder of the MAGA movement in the esteem of voters who really do want to turn back the clock to a “greater” America.
The second element of Trump’s Evangelical primary firewall is the significant and rapidly growing subset of American Evangelicals whose view of politics and its relationship to religion cannot be captured by mere policy issues. Trump plays a larger-than-life role in a supernatural drama of good and evil that many of these believers embrace via the teachings of a new set of “prophetic” teachers and preachers, as religious scholar Matthew Taylor explains:
“Trump’s most ardent Christian advocates are nondenominational Charismatic evangelicals, a group sometimes referred to by academics as Independent Charismatics or Independent Network Charismatic Christians.
“Independent Charismatics emphasize a modern, supernaturally driven worldview where contemporary prophets speak directly for God; miracles are everyday experiences; menacing demonic forces must be pushed back through prayer; and immersive, ecstatic worship experiences bolster Christian believers’ confidence that they are at the center of God’s work in the world. These believers are country cousins to the more denominationally aligned Pentecostal evangelicals, though the lack of denominational oversight and the freewheeling nature of the independent Charismatic sector leaves them more vulnerable to radicalization.”
Many Independent Charismatics have been radicalized by the passions unleashed by Trump and the conflicts he has engendered. Cultural warfare is for them spiritual warfare in which Trump is literally an agent of the divine will. Independent Charismatics are notably active in Trump-adjacent groups like the ReAwaken America Tour, in which pardoned former Trump lieutenants Roger Stone and Michael Flynn have been conspicuous participants, and a newer group called Pastors for Trump. The 45th president is an irreplaceable and heroic figure in the apocalyptic cosmologies of such groups, who aren’t about to replace him with some other Republican politician, no matter what more orthodox Evangelicals say or think. Specific political “issues” are very small in their reckoning of God’s destiny for America.
So within the legions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in American politics, Trump has charismatic shock troops whom he can count on to stick with him as though their lives — indeed, their souls — depend on it. If you add in the Evangelicals who uniquely trust Trump for keeping his promises to them and are grateful for his reshaping of the U.S. Supreme Court to make it a powerful allied force, you can see why he’s not as vulnerable to raids on this base of support as you might imagine from the boasts of his rivals that they are nearer to God than he is.
There’s a lot of good points in this study but I will also point out several paradoxes within the party’s make-up which make solutions very difficult to reach.
1). Yes crime needs to be brought under control but it should be pointed out the U.S. had some of its lowest crime rates under Obama. Many constituencies within the party will not accept crackdowns which disproportionally target their communities or give a blank check for law enforcement to do whatever they want or not do anything at all as we all saw in Uvalde. As for immigration, well, one can make a pretense to “controlling the border” (certainly Obama did) but the bottom line is so long as the U.S. is rich and freeer and the rest of the world poor, immigrants are going to continue to try and get in and all the walls and raids aren’t going to stop them.
2). Yes inflation needs to be brought under control but are people willing to accept a recession that cost them their jobs to get it? I don’t think so. Given that it’s a world problem and that the U.S. cannot control Chinese supply chains or energy trading markets, Please explain what other solutions are out there, especially when oil companies deliberately sit on leases for oil drilling they already have?
3). Didn’t the Democrats just pass bills to deal with infrastructure and brining back jobs? What more do you want them to do?
Here’s the bottom line:
“people waiting in line felt like they’d worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their
best, and were waiting for something they deserved. They’ve suffered long hours, layoffs,
and exposure to dangerous chemicals at work and received reduced pensions.
But this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy
stalls].Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women,
refugees, public sector workers. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then
in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be
waving these people ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people
who were cutting in line and pushing the people who are in line back.
I dunno, I guess when some people who have always been in the back of the line start moving up out of simple human decency and fairness I suppose there will be people who resent it. I would think the solution is to make things move faster or not have a line at all. Either way, because some of those people “cutting” happened to vote for the party, what it supposed to do? Ignore them? You can’t please everyone but you can be fair to all of them. I think most people would support that but we have to realize it won’t be all of them and there’s really nothing that can be done to satisfy them.
The notion that you can do very little about immigration is weird coming from a party that treats government as a good solution for practically every issue.
Enforcement and rewards and penalties can be used in all policy areas.
A can’t be done and a shouldn’t be done comment. This is basically a summary of where the party stands.
Levison’s memo is good, but Teixeira’s letter of January 27th, “What Would Working Class Say”, is better at offering solutions. You can find it on The Liberal Patriot website.
According to Levison’s memo, which analyzes the problem accurately, ” Democratic candidates can identify with these narratives and seek ways to address the legitimate concerns that are a deeply felt part of the working class experience in modern America without endorsing the extremist narrative that has incorporated and exploited them with such marked success.”
No, we can’t. We burned that bridge long ago. When the working class raised these legitimate concerns, we called them racists. We told them that their concerns over issues like crime and illegal immigration were just “dog whistles” and “code words” for racism. Meanwhile, the Republicans told them that their concerns are legitimate and deserve action. The working class may forgive our inaction on their concerns but they will never forgive being told that they are fools or bigots for having them.
Andy Levison fails to point out what Democrats *should* say using this three part narrative. Do Dems buckle down on corporations hurting the working class to show they are on their side? Do we need to lie and pretend everything was wonderful for everyone in some golden past? This problem is painfully clear when he compares the rhetoric of Ryan and Vance.
I am getting a lot of scolding on this site but not a lot of positive solutions.