Will the GOP turn away from evangelical Christians?

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Cartoon elephant dressed in a suit standing in front of a cracked and gadded USA flag.
The Republican Party

In today’s political landscape, where there is a blurring of church and state, white evangelicals call the Republican Party the Party of Trump. As a core constituency of the Republican Party, white evangelicals revere Trump as their modern-day savior. Trump, however, has made a mockery of Christian values and ideals, like his recited botched Bible verses and infamous staged photo-op outside St. John’s Church in D.C. during the George Floyd protests in 2020.

“The uber-conservatives [on the Supreme Court] have eroded decades-long civil rights gains and… separation between church and state.”

Trump’s zealous supporters have compared him to King Cyrus in the Bible, an atheist who liberated the Jews. His cult-like grip on white evangelicals has proven their Faustian bargain for power has no moral bottom. However, with Trump’s 37 felony counts related to mishandling of classified documents hovering over him as he vies for a second term as president, the GOP has to assess if he’s too big of a liability they now need to ditch. Or do white evangelicals need to ditch the GOP if a Trump-like candidate doesn’t emerge in the 2024 presidential campaign?

Trump delivered

Before Trump’s indictment, many Republican leaders who pledged fealty to him for political survival are now distancing themselves. The 37-count indictment has the potential to further fracture the party between die-hard backers of Trump for 2024 like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Senators J.D. Vance and Lindsey Graham, and moderate Republicans who want their party back.

The Republican presidential hopefuls are the first to break rank. The most shocking of them, and what Trump loyalists would call a turncoat, is his former vice president, Mike Pence.

“Let me be clear. No one is above the law,” Pence stated on PBS NewsHour. The “handling of classified materials of the United States is a serious matter.”

While many political operatives are trying to inch away from Trump, his everlasting white evangelical base — churchgoers and voters — loves him, comprising approximately 60 percent of the Republican presidential primary electorate.

Trump won the presidency on the promise he would appoint judges with a Christian worldview. And Trump delivered. During his tenure, Trump nominated 274 conservative Republicans to federal benches, and three to the Supreme Court — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump’s Israel policy took center stage when he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a colossal win for Christian dispensationalists — evangelical Zionists who believe that in the Second Coming of Christ, Israel will be rightly restored to its biblical boundaries. He later boasted, “The evangelicals appreciate it more than the Jews.”

Using SCOTUS to justify hate

Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again” was an undisguised dog whistle to his base to keep America a white heteronormative theocracy. The Supreme Court’s rulings have worked on behalf of Trump’s evangelicals. Roe v. Wade being overturned last year was merely the tip of the iceberg. This year SCOTUS has struck down affirmative action, student government loan cancellation, and sundry other misguided rulings, like the 6-3 ruling in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis under the guise of freedom of expression that discriminates against LGBTQ Americans. The plaintiff, a Colorado web designer who opposed same-sex marriage, contested and won by arguing that by requiring her to serve everyone equally, the state was unconstitutionally forcing her to create messages she opposed, violating her free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

In a Trumped-up Supreme Court, the uber-conservatives have eroded decades-long civil rights gains and the Constitutional mandate of separation between church and state. For example, in 2018, SCOTUS ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in favor of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom. In 2013 a family-owned bakery in Gresham, Ore., called “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” wanted to “practice their Constitutional right to religious freedom.” However, instead of servicing an LGBTQ clientele, Sweet Cakes closed the family shop and moved the business to their home, making it clear LGBTQ dollars were not wanted.

Trans rights in the bull’s-eye

Bigotry works in this political climate. Restricting transgender rights will work for Trump’s evangelical base and help the GOP in the 2024 election. At least 650 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures, with over 400 targeting the trans population; bills banning trans people from sports, banning gender-affirming surgery, and banning drag queen story hours in some states. HRC has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ Americans.

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth historian and a professor of religion, told PBS NewsHour. “It’s almost frantic.”

The Republican party has been transformed by Trump irreparably. The Party wants to win the 2024 presidency by any means necessary, and the Jan. 6 insurrection was proof. The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in a hypothetical match-up. “Any Republican who wanted to cross the finish line would have to kneel at the feet of the evangelical base,” Balmer said. The GOP can verbally trash Trump and even ditch him. However, they are still under his yoke because they need his base to win.