Just days before Donald Trump hosts his first event of 2024 in South Carolina, a state whose evangelical population has long played a vital role in its presidential primary, the former president is hitting out at religious conservatives who refused to endorse his third presidential campaign.
Trump’s comments to conservative journalist David Brody in a podcast interview on Monday, in which he denounced the “disloyalty” of evangelical leaders who have refused public support for his campaign, were the latest in a series of disconcerting remarks that he made it onto one of the most critical voting blocs in a Republican primary.
“No one has ever done more for Right to Life than Donald Trump. I put in three Supreme Court Justices, who all voted, and they got something they’ve been fighting for 64 years, for many, many years. years,” Trump told Brody, referring to the Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling last summer.
“There is great disloyalty in the world of politics and that is a sign of disloyalty,” Trump continued, lamenting evangelical leaders who refused to back his latest campaign.
Earlier this month, Trump also slammed abortion opponents for losing “large numbers of voters” in the 2022 midterm elections, “especially those who have staunchly insisted on the absence exceptions, even in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother”. The comments on her Truth Social platform drew sharp retorts from several prominent religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists, including Susan B. Anthony, president of Pro-Life America, Marjorie Dannenfelser, who in a thinly veiled criticism of Trump, has criticized Republicans who have argued for an “ostrich strategy” on abortion, preferring to ignore the issue than bring it up in critical elections.
Trump reiterated that sentiment in his interview with Brody, admitting that he told 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon of Michigan that they would face a tougher road to victory to have refused to support exceptions to abortion restrictions, such as when the mother’s life is at risk. Both candidates ultimately lost their respective races. As CNN previously reported, Trump spent much of the midterm cycle privately lashing out at his aides and allies that the Roe v. Wade hurt Republicans by elevating the issue and diverting attention from more favorable topics such as inflation and crime.
Trump’s recent complaints about evangelicals and abortion opponents have baffled allies and advisers who recognize the crucial role both groups play in the conservative ecosystem and their influence in the presidential primaries — a dynamic whose former president is apparently well aware. In 2016, the main reason Trump tapped Mike Pence, the self-proclaimed “devout evangelical” and then Indiana governor, to be his running mate was to build support among religious conservatives who remained deeply skeptical of his own brash political brand. That same mission could prove more difficult in a crowded 2024 primary as Trump struggles to convince primary voters that he is both the most eligible and the most determined to advance their causes in a second administration.
“There is no path to nomination without winning the evangelical vote. No one knows this better than President Trump because, to the surprise of almost everyone, he won their support in 2016,” said Ralph Reed, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which has long been close to the government. ‘former president.
“He’s going to get a very fair hearing from voters of faith. But it will be a contested primary with a lot of pro-life candidates and all of them can make their case,” Reed added. “No one should assume that the gospel vote is spoken to or forbidden to them.”
Some high-profile evangelical leaders have already begun to publicly distance themselves from Trump, fearing he won’t be as eligible as other Republicans against President Joe Biden.
“It is time to turn the page. America must move forward. Step off stage in style,” tweeted Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of Family Leader.
In a November op-ed titled “It’s time for the GOP to say it: Donald Trump is hurting us, he’s not helping us,” wrote Dr. Everett Piper, a former president of a Christian college, whom Trump “impeded rather than helped. the long-awaited “red wave” halfway through 2022.
Trump not only contributed to declining support for Republicans among key demographics like suburban women, his own support among white evangelical and white Catholic voters — two demographics he carried in 2016 — had already softened. during his 2020 campaign, long before he began insulting evangelical leaders for their “disloyalty”. CNN exit polls from Trump’s 2020 race against Biden show he garnered 56% support among white Catholic voters nationally, down 4 points since 2016, and also dropped 4 points to 76% among white evangelical voters.
An evangelical leader, who requested anonymity to speak freely, brushed off the significance of public support from religious leaders and said Trump’s fate would be determined by worshipers and voters themselves.
“Evangelicals on the pews moved towards Trump faster than evangelical leaders. It was not the leaders who ruled the seculars,” this person told CNN, while noting that conservative Christians in their own community were divided on whether to support Trump in 2024 – with many looking for a new candidate to push forward. the program of the former president.
Some aides to the former president insist they are not worried about the repercussions of his recent comments. Trump remains in regular contact with high-level evangelical leaders. Advisers say the results Trump has delivered to religious conservatives — from advancing anti-abortion policies and appointing hundreds of conservative federal judges to relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem — will provide contrast clear once the 2024 GOP field takes shape and naysayers start bashing Trump. good conservative faith.
“President Trump’s unmatched record speaks for itself – appointing pro-life federal justices and Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, ending taxpayer-funded abortions, reinstating the Mexico City policy that Protects the Lives of the Unborn Abroad, and many other actions that have defended the lives of the unborn. There has been no greater advocate for the movement than President Trump,” said Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement to CNN.
Others close to Trump have speculated that his decision to blame abortion opponents for a poor Republican performance in 2022 has more to do with his own reluctance to acknowledge the negative impact he has had on the midterm elections.
“Evangelicals put Trump in the White House and justified him by saying he would appoint conservative judges,” a former adviser told CNN. “Now he is backing away from his one unassailable win for them and trashing them in the process. It’s self-destructive.
In the months ahead, the former president will continue to highlight first-term accomplishments that endeared him to religious conservatives, a person familiar with the matter said. He will also maintain contact with figures on the religious right, some of whom are eagerly waiting to see which other Republicans dive into the 2024 primary. As Trump strives to woo religious conservatives, his early announcement could put him at a disadvantage against to some of its potential rivals. A federal law that prohibits churches from engaging in political campaigning could prevent Trump from speaking directly to evangelicals at megachurches across the country, which former Vice President Mike Pence has done as part of his recent book tour.
It’s unclear if Trump will take part in the annual March for Life in Washington later this week, as one of his top potential opponents – Pence – plans to host participants at the nearby office of his political group, Advancing. AmericanFreedom. Cheung would not comment on the former president’s plans.
Still, Trump’s past accomplishments may not carry the same weight in a primary that his campaign hopes. In the days after announcing his campaign from the Mar-a-Lago ballroom, an event few of his most prominent evangelical allies attended, the former president was urged by Dannenfelser to offer ” a strong pro-life national vision” if he and others are to be competitive in elementary school. Trump had not mentioned any of his anti-abortion accomplishments during his campaign announcement speech, which Dannenfelser and others noted.
His reluctance so far to support calls for a national abortion ban from conservative groups and anti-abortion activists could also become problematic in a primary against Pence or others who have backed such efforts.
“I salute any effort to advance the cause of life in state capitals or in the nation’s capital,” Pence said last September when asked about a bill proposed by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would enact federal restrictions on abortion.