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Evangelicals flock to Trump as he weathers Stormy Daniels scandal

Amid the Stormy Daniels headlines, Trump's support from evangelicals has risen in the past few months


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Matthew Sheffield
March 19, 2018 10:59PM (UTC)

As his presidency enters year two, Donald Trump's political support ratings have slowly declined as increasing numbers of his supporters seem to be reevaluating their opinions of him. Trump began his administration with a 50 percent approval rating in aggregated polls, which has dipped to 39 percent as of this writing.

Almost anyway you slice it, Trump's numbers are lower now than they were before, even among Republicans. There is one group that has maintained (and even increased) its support for the president, however: white evangelical Protestants.

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In a January survey from the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of self-identified white evangelicals said they approved of the way that Trump doing his job, with 21 percent disapproving. In a March poll, 78 percent said they approved with just 18 percent saying they disapproved. White evangelicals were the only group in the two studies who became more supportive of Trump.

It's notable that probably the biggest news that broke during the two months was the revelation that the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had paid $130,000 to porn actress and director Stormy Daniels shortly before the election.

Outside critics of the evangelical movement, and even some inside it, have observed that the relationship between evangelicals and Trump — a man who clearly has no familiarity with the Bible and has boasted about groping women — is simply about politics. He works on their agenda items and hires their people and they, in turn, support him loyally.

According to David Brody, the White House correspondent for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, that's simply not the case.

"Critics say that the Trump-evangelical relationship is transactional, that they support him to see their agenda carried out. In fact, evangelicals take the long view on Mr. Trump; they afford him grace when he doesn’t deserve it," Brody wrote in a February New York Times op-ed. "Few dispute that Mr. Trump may need a little more grace than others. But evangelicals truly do believe that all people are flawed, and yet Christ offers them grace. Shouldn’t they do the same for the president?"

That sentiment is one that's been echoed by a number of fundamentalist Protestants, some of whom have begun comparing Trump to the Biblical stories about King Cyrus, a pagan ruler who was said to have been an instrument of God's, despite the fact that he was not a Hebrew.

Other evangelicals, however, are much more willing to admit that they are, indeed, engaged in a political relationship. One such person is Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council who originally supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the 2016 GOP nomination, only to move toward Trump once his candidacy became inevitable.

"Folks, you have no reason to be ashamed of supporting this president. He has kept his promises, and as long as he continues to keep those promises and he continues to conduct himself in a way that is in keeping with the office—you know, if he were to engage in behavior like Bill Clinton, we’re out of here. That support would evaporate quickly,” Perkins told the audience of his daily radio show last Monday, in remarks transcribed by Right Wing Watch.

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Still other evangelical leaders seem to view their support for Trump as a matter of identity. Conservative media has become so suffused with criticisms of "liberal elites" who allegedly persecute Christians that many seem to believe Trump is their battering ram against the left. In a March 2017 poll done by the Public Religion Research Institute, more evangelicals said they were discriminated against by society than Muslims were.

Sure of their own righteousness, some more conspiracy-oriented evangelicals see dark spiritual forces inspiring liberals and socialists.

Rick Wiles, the host of a web show called "TruNews" told viewers last week that "America smells like putrid vomit in the nostrils of the Lord" because of its willingness to tolerate LGBT rights, in contrast to Russia, which does not.

"You had better be careful about saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a war, we’re going to beat Russia,’" he warned hypothetical left-wing viewers of his show. "You better be very careful, because the Lord may be on Russia’s side in this war."

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“They’re acting more Christian than us,” he said. “This nation has embraced homosexuality, lewdness, pornography, every vile thing, paganism, the gods of the East, we’ve embraced it in this country and the church just accommodates it.”

According to Star Parker, a rare black conservative evangelical, Democrats have shown themselves to be the minions of Satan.

“I don’t think that they [Americans in general] understand how evil that the Democrat Party has become and how entrenched it is in the Democrat philosophy and their platform—abortion, killing what God calls His reward,” she said during a March 6 interview with the Family Research Council.

“It is the party of anti-Christ,” she added. “They do not believe anything of scripture. When the Bible says don’t do something, they want to do it. When the Bible says do do something, they don’t want to. So it is good for us to be here, to testify, to bring that out of them, those congressional leaders, so that the people in the district now recognize who their congressman really is and they have a decision to make.”


Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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