White evangelicals are the sleeping giant of the 2018 midterms

All the policy wins that explain evangelical Christians’ loyalty to Trump.

Conservative evangelical Christians put Donald Trump, of all people, in the White House because they believed that his administration would bring them big wins on the issues they care most about. That bet paid off handsomely — on abortion, perhaps their top issue, and on much more — during the first two years of Trump.

Those voters have in turn become the president’s most loyal base, even as he endures a campaign finance scandal linked to payoffs to a porn actress, and they will play a critical role on Election Day.

Evangelicals overwhelmingly prefer Republicans in the 2018 midterms, and they are reliable voters, while Democrats are relying on a younger, more diverse, and less proven coalition. Social conservatives could swing important races across the country if other voters don’t turn out in the numbers Democrats are hoping for.

White conservative evangelicals can point to wins across the board — on abortion, on gender identity, on “religious freedom,” and, most importantly, on the Supreme Court — under Trump. From their perspective, the Trump administration has been a series of smashing successes on their core issues. Trump’s behavior is almost beside the point. Instead, they have a deeply religious vice president, Mike Pence, quietly working to enact their agenda.

“President Donald Trump’s administration has undoubtedly been the most pro-family and pro-life administration in decades,” Walker Wildmon at the American Family Association said in an emailed statement to Vox.

The white evangelical community views the Trump era as a fundamental realignment of American politics, with the Christian right reasserting itself after eight years of Barack Obama. They understand that if Republicans lose the House or, even worse, the House and Senate in the midterm elections, their agenda is at risk. On the surface, the GOP is leaning into a fear-based white identity campaign, but underneath, evangelicals have a whole set of other issues they care very deeply about that have nothing to do with immigration or crime.

Take, for instance, the New York Times report last week that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender as a strictly biological question. LGBTQ rights groups were outraged, but that policy is reportedly being pushed by a Christian conservative who joined the Trump administration from the Heritage Foundation. Evangelical leaders supported the proposal even as they slammed the media for sensationalizing the report.

“What President Trump is doing is following the law — which, after eight years of Barack Obama’s overreach, is suddenly a shocking concept,” Tony Perkins, who leads the Family Research Council, wrote after the Times report came out.

Perhaps most importantly, evangelicals wanted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation. Now they have it, and if they turn out to vote as thanks, evangelicals could be crucial to the coalition that keeps Republicans in power.

The importance of evangelicals in the 2018 midterms, explained

It isn’t news that white evangelical Christians vote overwhelmingly for Republicans. But it was fair to wonder in 2016 how they would reconcile Christ’s teachings with an adulterer who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women’s genitals against their will.

In the end, it made little difference: 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. It is impossible to quantify his effect, but the presence of Pence on the ballot surely helped some of those voters make peace with Trump — and the vice president has been an instrumental figure since taking office in setting the administration’s agenda on these issues.

Those people have stuck with Trump. In April, after a year of Trump and having racked up some of those important victories, 75 percent of evangelical voters said they approved of the way the president was doing his job. In the most recent Fox News poll, Trump was still holding 73 percent approval among these voters. They gave him winning marks on the economy, health care, immigration, race relations, and the Supreme Court.

Evangelicals have used the specter of the midterm elections to influence the White House and Republicans in Congress. They warned that if Trump pulled Kavanaugh’s nomination as the judge faced sexual assault allegations, their voters would be demoralized and might not turn out in the numbers needed in November.

“If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” evangelical leader Ralph Reed told the New York Times, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”

Faith and Freedom Coalition Founder Ralph Reed campaigns for then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on October 22, 2016.
Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed campaigns for then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on October 22, 2016.
 Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump and Republican leaders held out and Kavanaugh got confirmed. Republicans are relying on their base to stave off a Democratic wave, and they know evangelicals are critical to that mission.




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