Just days before Donald Trump is to host his first event of 2024 in South Carolina, a state whose evangelical population has long played a critical role in its presidential primaries, the former president is attacking 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 condemned the “disloyalty” of evangelical leaders who withheld public support for his campaign, were the latest in a series of baffling comments that he did on one of the most critical voting blocs in a Republican primary.
“No one has ever done more for the right to life than Donald Trump. I put in three Supreme Court justices, who voted, and they got something they’ve been fighting for 64 years, for many, many years,'” Trump told Brody, referring to the Supreme Court’s repeal of federal abortion rights in Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision 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 support his latest campaign.
Earlier this month, Trump also criticized abortion opponents for losing “huge numbers of voters” in the 2022 midterm elections, “especially those who steadfastly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the woman.” mom”. The comments on his Truth Social platform drew scathing responses from several prominent religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who, in a thinly-veiled critique of Trump, criticized Republicans who advocated an “Ostrich Strategy ” on abortion, choosing to ignore the issue rather than raise it in critical elections.
Trump reaffirmed that sentiment in his interview with Brody, admitting he advised the GOP’s 2022 gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon of Michigan that they would face a harder road to victory for refusing to support exceptions to abortion restrictions, such as when the mother’s life is at risk. Both candidates ended up losing their respective races. As CNN previously reported, Trump spent much of the midterm cycle privately complaining to aides and allies that the overthrow of Roe v. Wade hurt Republicans by elevating the issue and diverting attention away from more favorable topics like inflation and crime.
Trump’s recent rants 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 on presidential primaries — a dynamic the former president is apparently well aware of. In 2016, Trump’s main reason for naming Mike Pence, the self-described “devoted evangelical” and then governor of Indiana, to be his running mate was to bolster support among religious conservatives who remained deeply skeptical of his own brand of politics. impetuous. That same mission may prove more challenging in the crowded 2024 primaries, as Trump works to convince primary voters that he is the most eligible and most committed to advancing his 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 almost everyone’s surprise, he won their support in 2016,” said Ralph Reed, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, who has long been close to the former president.
“He will get a very fair audience from loyal voters. But this will be a contested primary with many pro-life candidates and all of them will be able to make their case,” added Reed. “No one should presume that the evangelical vote is spoken or prevented for them.”
Some prominent evangelical leaders have already begun to publicly distance themselves from Trump, fearing he may not be as eligible as other Republicans against President Joe Biden.
“It is time to turn the page. America must move on. Walk off the stage in style,” tweeted Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of Family Leader.
In a November article entitled “It’s Time for the GOP to Say: Donald Trump Is Hurting Us, Not Helping Us,” Dr. Everett Piper, a former president of a Christian university, wrote that Trump “hindered rather than helped the long-awaited ‘red wave'” in the 2022 midterm election.
Not only did Trump contribute to waning support for Republicans among key demographics such as suburban women, but his own support among white evangelicals and white Catholic voters — two demographics he was carrying in 2016 — was already waning during his election campaign. 2020, long before he started to insult evangelical leaders. for his “disloyalty”. CNN exit polls from Trump’s 2020 race against Biden show he garnered 56% support among white Catholic voters nationwide, down 4 points from 2016, and also dropped 4 points to 76% among voters. white evangelicals.
An evangelical leader, who requested anonymity to speak freely, downplayed the importance of public support from religious leaders and said Trump’s fate will be determined by the faithful and voters themselves.
“Evangelicals in the pews moved toward Trump faster than evangelical leaders. It wasn’t the leaders leading the laity,” this person told CNN, noting that conservative Christians in their own community were divided over supporting Trump in 2024 – with many looking for a new candidate to carry forward the former president’s agenda.
Some advisers 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 argue that the results Trump has delivered to religious conservatives — from advancing anti-abortion policies and appointing hundreds of conservative federal judges to relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — will provide a clear contrast when the 2024 GOP camp takes shape. and opponents start attacking Trump. conservative good faith.
“President Trump’s unrivaled record speaks for itself – appointing pro-life federal judges and Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. actions that defended the life of the unborn child. There has been no greater supporter of the movement than President Trump,” 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 performance by Republicans in 2022 has more to do with his own reluctance to acknowledge the negative impact it had on the midterm elections.
“Evangelicals put Trump in the White House and justified it by saying he would appoint conservative judges,” a former aide told CNN. “Now he is walking away from his only unassailable victory for them and destroying them in the process. He is self-destructive.”
In the coming months, the former president will continue to highlight the first-term accomplishments that endeared him to religious conservatives, said a person familiar with the matter. He will also keep in touch with prominent figures on the religious right, some of whom are waiting with bated breath to see which other Republicans take the plunge in the 2024 primaries. As Trump works to woo religious conservatives, his early announcement could put him at a disadvantage for some of his potential rivals. A federal law banning churches from being involved in political campaigns could bar Trump from speaking directly to evangelicals at megachurches across the country, something former Vice President Mike Pence has been doing as part of his recent book tour.
It’s unclear whether Trump will attend the annual March for Life on Washington later this week, when one of his main potential opponents – Pence – plans to host attendees at the nearby office of his policy group, Advancing American Freedom. Cheung declined to comment on the former president’s plans.
Still, Trump’s past accomplishments may not carry the same weight in the primaries that his campaign hopes. In the days following his campaign announcement at the Mar-a-Lago ballroom, an event few of his most prominent evangelical allies attended, the former president was urged by Dannenfelser to present “a strong pro-life national vision ” if he and others want to be competitive in the primaries. Trump did not mention any of his accomplishments in the anti-abortion sphere during his campaign announcement speech, something Dannenfelser and others noted.
His reluctance so far to support calls for a national abortion ban by conservative groups and anti-abortion activists could also become problematic in a primary against Pence or others who have supported such efforts.
“I welcome any and all efforts to advance the cause of life in state capitals or the nation’s capital,” Pence said last September when asked about a bill proposed by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham that would enact Federal restrictions on abortion.
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