Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump

Feb 12, 2020 by

by Andrew T Walker, National Review:

It’s a complicated situation for religious conservatives. But these are complicated times.

In January 2021, someone will take the presidential oath of office, and religious conservatives will undoubtedly play a crucial role in whom it will be. Their influence will be the focus of an untold number of postmortems, of the type they’ve been accustomed to hearing since 2016, when the notorious “81 percent” of evangelicals voted for the unlikeliest of candidates: Donald Trump. There are two competing interpretations of Trump’s enthusiastic support from religious conservatives: that it is a lesser-of-two-evils transaction based on self-interest, or that it shows a voting bloc compromised by every form of democratic vice, whether racism, nativism, or nationalism.

If trends hold, there will be a similar turnout in 2020. Rather than wait for the postmortem, I can tell you what will happen now: Millions of religious conservatives will approach their votes with a political realism that requires balancing undesirable tensions and conflicting realities. They will vote not so much for Donald Trump — with his uncouth speech and incessantly immature tweets — as they will vote against the worldview of the Democratic platform. Those who make this calculation are not sell-outs, nor have they forfeited the credibility of their values carte blanche. For blind allegiance does not explain the voting relationship. That religious conservatives are not progressives does. Between Never Trump and Always Trump is a third category: Reluctant Trump. Voters in this category don’t get the fair hearing they deserve, since they defy the simple binary portrayal of religious conservatives as either offended by Trump or sold out to him.

Whatever scorn religious conservatives receive from secular and religious elites — whether fairly or unfairly — for abandoning their principles, exhibiting moral hypocrisy, or being complicit in an administration that Americans hear almost daily is an ‘existential threat’ to America, the reality is that religious conservatives of this third-way variety approach politics with far more complexity and internal tension than journalists claim. I should know, for I am a religious conservative. I’ve been schooled in their institutions.  I am not writing the all-too-typical renunciation and self-hating hit piece to distance myself from my fellow religious conservatives. I embrace them as my people. But I’m not making this argument for myself. I’m making it on behalf of those I live with, talk to, and know to be nobler than the representation they get in the media. While I did not vote for Trump in 2016, I’ve backed off my former insistence that a Trump vote means automatically surrendering one’s principles.

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