Former President Donald Trump enters 2024 leading his Republican rivals by a national poll average of 51 percentage points. However, Iowa influencers from Trump’s loyal base of evangelical voters have established goalposts also applicable to the general electorate, should Trump top the GOP ticket.
The first “goalpost” was reported by Reuters in mid-December. Quoted while presiding over a Trump prayer circle, Brad Sherman, an Iowa state legislator and pastor, cried to God, “There is a great victory coming for this nation and the world because of the calling you’ve placed on this man.” Another devout Iowa voter exclaimed, “We believe that he’s anointed by God.”
During this presidential season, long-time evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats finds himself at the opposite end of the Iowa playing field. A former leading Trump supporter, Vander Plaats, has “had enough” and now believes Trump “is not the leadership our country needs.” He predicts that “Iowa will rise up.” He earned Trump’s ire in November after endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
That one person could be perceived by some evangelicals as “anointed by God” and “called” to lead a “great victory,” and by others as “not the leadership our country needs,” indicates the very schism that makes Trump the most controversial, enigmatic, and influential national political figure of the 21st century. He leads a robust, growing nationalist movement far greater than the Republican Party, while proudly expressing dictatorial sentiments for his second term.
Evangelical voters are a valued part of Trump’s movement. In 2020, 84 percent of white evangelicals supported him, compared to 77 percent in 2016, according to Pew Research.
Slightly lower, Gallup reported, 81 percent of white evangelical voters went for Trump, with Biden winning only 18 percent.
Although this Trump-loyal group represents only 14.5 percent of the population, they turn out in force and wield an outsized influence, comprising 28 percent of the electorate in 2020. Furthermore, white evangelicals are disproportionately concentrated in the critical swing states of Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
In those states, Trump could win a second term on the back of strong evangelical turnout, if he can only shave a few percentage points off Biden’s 18 percent support from that group. Meanwhile, with Democratic enthusiasm trending downward for President Biden among his party’s traditional voter groups, strong evangelical support would carry more weight in battleground states.
Interestingly, in 2016, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence helped deliver the evangelical vote when tapped as Trump’s running mate. Trump cemented that loyalty by appointing three Supreme Court justices whose votes indirectly overturned Roe vs. Wade, the long-hated 1973 abortion rights ruling.
Proving how strong political alliances can shift, Pence is now politically dead — rejected by his evangelical base and deemed an enemy of Trump for the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Worse, that base now rationalizes, downplays or just puts out of mind the cries that day of “Hang Mike Pence!”
Usually, a hanging results in murder, and Bible-reading evangelicals know that “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. If you need a refresher, first-hand reporting appears in the Old Testament book of Exodus. Moses, who received the Ten Commandments from God, is represented both inside and outside the Supreme Court building, symbolizing how the commandments formed the basis of law governing Western civilization.
That poses a political and religious conundrum. Many evangelical voters believe that God is calling Trump to lead the nation. But at one time or another, Trump has disregarded most of the decalogue, often willfully. Here is a brief rundown.
1. “You shall have no other gods before me”
Critics argue that Trump’s ego-driven behavior, coupled with his apparent disregard for the Constitution, means he thinks of himself as god-like. Anti-Trump forces consider him a pseudo-messianic figure who operates above accepted norms of moral and legal behavior. On Capitol Hill, he has been called “Orange Jesus.” Unlike most humans, Trump is consistently never wrong, makes a point of never asking forgiveness, and can never lose.
2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol”
Millions of Americans believe that Trump has fostered an idol-like cult of personality — a force to be worshipped. This is not completely an exaggeration — remember the gold Trump idol at CPAC? Initially, Trump built an empire based on his name brand. Now, he sells Trump digital trading cards and has morphed into a superhero idol.
3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”
4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
Trump worships on the golf course.
5. “Honor your father and mother”
Trump has at least somewhat dishonored his father, Fred, whose hundreds of millions paid for him to become a “self-made” billionaire.
6. “You shall not murder”
Mike Pence was not hanged, so Trump gets a pass.
7. “You shall not commit adultery”
Trump’s numerous extramarital affairs are well documented, often through his own bragging. Two of his alleged affairs are still the subject of litigation. He was also found liable in civil court for sexual assault in May 2023.
8. “You shall not steal”
Trump tried but failed to steal the 2020 election. He will have his day in court for that one.
9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”
According to the Washington Post’s fact checkers, Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements during his presidency. Even if the number is somewhat inflated by bogus fact-checks, the number of legitimate falsehoods he has told — including the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him — is large even for a politician.
10. “You shall not covet”
Trump covets power and authority. He will stop at nothing to get it and keep it. He attempted to overturn the 2020 election when his power was about to be legally terminated. Then, upon leaving office, Trump took hundreds of sensitive documents that belonged to the government.
At Trump rallies, you often see evangelical supporters wearing hats or t-shirts proclaiming, “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.” On Election Day, these most passionate, devout voters will be in national prayer circles asking God to deliver.
Myra Adams served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns, in 2004 and 2008.
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