While the vast majority of white evangelicals continue to display their abject moral bankruptcy through their support of Donald Trump - a thoroughly immoral individual - some are beginning to shift towards Joe Biden a Catholic for whom his religious beliefs actual mean something. While not large, the shift has instilled panic in the Trump campaign whose game plan is to garner even higher margins of support among those who voted for Trump in 2016 even as Trump continues to alienate the remainder of Americans. The defections among white Catholics who voted fro Trump in 2016 are even larger despite Trump's efforts to paint Biden as a pro-abortion radical. A piece in Politico looks at Trump's growing problems with the so-called religious conservatives. Here are article highlights:
It was June 10, 2008. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had gathered with dozens of evangelical leaders — many of them fixtures of the religious right — at the urging of campaign aides. If he could offer genuine glimpses of his own abiding faith, they insisted he could chisel away at the conservative Christian voting bloc.
The strategy worked. Obama’s campaign stops at churches, sermonlike speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote — doubling Democrats’ support among young white evangelicals and gaining 3 percentage points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.
Now, allies of
PresidentDonald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same — snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.
Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals — and other religious groups — than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.
Many conservative evangelical leaders have argued that Biden’s positions on cultural issues — like abortion, judges and religious freedom — are disqualifying. Still, anxiety is growing inside Trump’s orbit about the former vice president’s ability to peel off Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016, including the 81 percent of white evangelicals he carried, according to eight administration officials, White House allies and people involved with the Trump campaign.
Such an outcome could deal a fatal blow to [Trump's]
the president’sreelection, which largely hinges on expanding his support among religious voters to compensate for enthusiasm gaps elsewhere.
“Here’s the problem for Trump: He needs to be at 81 percent or north to win reelection. Any slippage and he doesn’t get a second term, and that’s where Joe Biden comes into play,” said David Brody, chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network. “In this environment, with everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd and Trump calling himself the ‘law-and-order president,’ Biden could potentially pick off a percent or 2 from that 81 percent number.”
Some of Biden’s campaign appearances and debate answers have been infused with religious undertones, and his campaign reportedly hosts a weekly call with faith leaders to crowdsource policy and personnel suggestions.
At a CNN town hall in February, Biden said his faith “gives me some reason to have hope and purpose” and praised the “ultimate act of Christian charity” shown by members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., after they forgave a white supremacist who murdered nine members of their congregation in a 2014 mass shooting.
In an op-ed last December that included references to Scripture and Pope Francis’ second encyclical “Laudato Si,” Biden described “the core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue” that he learned through his Catholic upbringing as guiding principles in his political career.
Even Trump allies recognize Biden has an opening to strike the empathetic and compassionate tone that Trump eschewed in many of his comments about the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over racial inequality.
The president's law-and-order mantra arrived at an already perilous time for his campaign, which has witnessed a steady erosion in support for Trump across key religious demographics and a leftward shift in voter attitudes on issues of race and criminal justice. Trump has already seen double-digit declines in his support from white Catholics, white evangelicals and white mainline Protestants since April — unsettling trends that triggered his recent overtures to conservative Christians, including his visit to St. John’s and an executive order on religious freedom that he signed earlier this month.
“There are evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 who will in 2020, but there are plenty of white evangelicals who are disappointed in his administration’s response to coronavirus and are embracing — for the first time ever — some belief in systemic racism,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. “They are the ones who are just dying for a reason not to vote for Trump.”
“The Supreme Court decision has caused some evangelicals to lose faith in the political playbook that says justices and judges can deliver what we care about,” said Fea, noting that one of Trump’s main appeals to white evangelicals is his record on judicial appointments and his promise to continue appointing conservative judges.
“It’s not going to have a big effect on evangelical support for Trump, but in the mix of all these other things it does add up,” he added.
Fea, who teaches in Mechanicsburg, Pa., added that “hardscrabble working-class Catholics” in the Philadelphia suburbs and across Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan should be a primary target for the Biden campaign. He noted that although Trump won the Catholic vote by a 7-point margin four years ago, his support has wavered far more with Catholic voters than it has with white evangelicals, providing his opponent a ripe opportunity.
“In some ways, just the fact that he is Joe Biden from Scranton, Pa., is going to win him Catholic votes in those states,” Fea said.