“At this moment, I would like to thank the Evangelical and religious community,” said Donald Trump, accepting his nomination at the Republican National Convention on July 21 2016. “Because, I’ll tell you what, the support that they’ve given me, and I’m not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight.”
That was classic Trump – through his ineloquence, he often speaks truth. He doesn’t deserve that support – yet, boy, has he had it! Some 81 per cent of white Evangelicals voted for him. Catholics, often said to be the voting bloc that swings American elections, were more lukewarm. Still, our lot voted for him by a 52 per cent majority. Born-again Trumpism appeared to be having a slight wobble towards the end of last year, around the time of impeachment; but it seems to have been exaggerated, or at least brushed aside, because of the coronavirus: a poll this month shows he has a record 83 per cent approval rating among white Evangelicals.
Commentators are often perplexed that a gluttonous and boastful thrice-married New York real-estate billionaire with shady business connections is so revered by the faithful. Trump says he is a Presbyterian who loves the Bible, yet he seems theologically illiterate. He claims a deep attachment to Scripture but can’t name his favourite verse. He’s said that he doesn’t ‘‘like to have to ask for forgiveness”. Why then do white Protestants seem to like him more even than they did George W Bush, a more religious right-wing Republican?
Well, one answer is that Christians love a sinner. The other requires a little understanding of Christianity in the land of the free. A huge number of American protestants think that God speaks to their nation through its politics. It’s the eschatology, stupid.
American Evangelicals take the apocalyptic stuff in Scripture very seriously. Many regard Trump as an agent of God’s will precisely because he is such a flawed man. He is a divinely selected “vessel”, an unwitting agent of good in the great battle against evil. A number of pastors and preachers compare Trump to King Cyrus, the pagan king selected by the Almighty to do his bidding. Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Israel and build the temple – and large numbers of fervently Zionist Christians believe that Trump’s moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem was a similarly holy act.
Not all white Evangelicals go so far, of course, but a similar idea informs their thinking. Trump must be a Godsend because he drives the progressive secularists so mad. The seemingly biblical plague we are all living through only intensifies that sense of a crucial moment in America’s manifest destiny.
Catholics are another matter entirely. Intellectuals dismiss talk of political candidates winning the “Catholic vote” as reductive – American Catholicism is just too sprawling and diverse, they say. But it is indisputable that Trump won in 2016 because he appealed to white working-class Catholics in swing rust-belt states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. These people are former Democrats; the Trump campaign’s great fear is that the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2020, Joe Biden, an Irish Catholic boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania, could woo them back.
Biden is a frightful hypocrite. He wears a rosary on his wrist and goes on television with a cross on his forehead on Ash Wednesday. At the same time, he is very pro-abortion and entirely on board with the LGBT agenda. He knows you don’t get very far in his party if you don’t subscribe to these liberal shibboleths.
Biden’s persona, however, is culturally very Catholic. His speech is peppered with Irishisms – “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” – which means that faithful voters identify with him. Combine that with the huge majority of black American Christians (Evangelical and Catholic) who will always vote Democrat and who seem to like Biden in particular, and Good ol’ Joe starts to look a winner, even if his mental faculties appear to be in decline.
The Catholic vote is always elusive, though. When candidates think they have it grasped, it slips away. Hillary Clinton thought that by nominating the Scots-Irish Catholic Tim Kaine as her vice president , she would shore up Catholic support. She was wrong.
The Trump campaign can and will hammer Biden hard on his lack of principles in public life, and the truly religious will be put off. Never mind the fact that the President is a man who calls people “scum” on Twitter; the Republican Party’s ace card with the devout is Trump’s extraordinary success in nominating conservative and pro-life judges. On the Supreme Court, Trump has nominated Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, two Christian judges who are understood to oppose abortion.
It seems unlikely that abortion will be prohibited or even restricted any time soon, but many Christian voters are starting to feel that the angels really are on the side of the Donald, despite everything. We know He works mysteriously.
Freddy Gray is editor of Spectator USA
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