A few evangelical leaders were not happy when Trump pulled out of Syria. Most of them, however, have made peace with the decision. Court evangelical Franklin Graham, who originally opposed the move, now says that he respects Trump’s decision and won’t “second-guess” him on Syria. Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr. have been silent. Tony “Mulligan” Perkins spoke out against the remove of American troops from Syria, but he has been pretty quiet since Trump went to the Values Voter Summit and promised $50 million in aid to Syrian Christians.
Would Trump evangelicals like to see the president to do more for the Kurds? Of course. But Trump’s policy in Syria will have very little bearing on white evangelical support for the president. Why?
- Most evangelicals do not see foreign policy as a primary issue informing how they will vote. Many rank and file evangelicals are not closely following developments in Syria.
- Most evangelicals will stick with Trump as long as he remains strong on conservative Supreme Court nominations, opposition to abortion, and religious liberty for American evangelicals. As I told NPR’s The Takeaway last week, religious liberty for Christians in the Middle East is a tertiary issue at best.
- There is no Democratic candidate right now who will attract 2016 Trump voters in large numbers.
Yesterday, I told all of this to Politico reporter Gabby Orr. Here is her piece. None of what I said made the cut. I am guessing that my thoughts did not fit well with her focus on the potential break-up of Trump’s evangelical base.
The issue here is not whether the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals will vote for Trump in 2020. They will. (Assuming, of course, that he survives impeachment in the Senate). The issue is whether impeachment, Trump’s behavior over the last four years, and, to a much lesser extent, Syria will prompt just enough (maybe 5-10%?) white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 to vote for a Democrat, a third candidate, or not vote at all in 2020. Orr’s reporting seems to suggest that the Trump campaign is aware of this. She writes:
“If he’s going to win in 2020,” said the longtime Trump friend, “he has to be north of the 81 percent [of white evangelicals] he won in 2016. I’m not suggesting that the polling is all of a sudden going to show that his support is plummeting because of Syria. But if it stays stagnant, he’s a one-term president.”
Just like in 2016, Trump’s opponent will make all the difference. If it is Joe Biden, evangelicals may feel more comfortable voting third party or not voting at all. Perhaps some will even vote for Biden. But if it is Warren or Sanders, expect most white evangelical 2016 Trump voters to reject the progressivism of these New England candidates and vote for Trump.