On Monday night, entrance polls found more than half of Iowa’s Republican caucus-goers identified as “born-again or evangelical Christian.” Then, less than an hour after it began, the Associated Press declared a decisive victory for Trump.
Charged with 91 criminal offenses and having attended 0 presidential debates, the former president more than doubled the support he received from Iowans in 2016. One of his biggest gains came from evangelical counties where voters increasingly subscribe to the “Big Lie” and to an even more fanatic and farfetched one: that Trump, who called Christians “fools,” “idiots,” and “schmucks,” is a messianic figure appointed by God.
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reported this week that Turning Point USA is teaming up with Seven Mountain Mandate “apostle” Lance Wallnau to recruit religious leaders in swing states to campaign for Trump. Not that it appears he needs the support, they allege to have already signed on 2,500 congregations willing to “challenge the IRS,” a reference to the Johnson Amendment that prohibits tax-exempt churches from engaging in electoral politics. Of course, if reelected, Trump has already promised to repeal that law – per usual, against the wishes of a supermajority of Americans who agree churches should not endorse candidates.
Much has already been said over the past eight years about the incongruous appeal of a thrice-married adulterer and sexual assaulter to the abstinence-only voting bloc. If any further commentary is to be taken seriously, it must dispense with the idea that any of this is incongruous.
In 2024, to be evangelical is less a religious persuasion than it is a political one. They’re more likely to attend a caucus than church. But the question remains – and it’s one they’ve loved to levy at us atheists: What do they believe in?
Right now, the answer is whatever Trump does, no matter what he does. Two-thirds of Monday’s caucus attendees said a criminal conviction would not impact their support. Evangelicals are so inextricably aligned with him, that there is no coherent ideology other than blind loyalty (which one might think qualifies as idolatry).
But as Amanda Marcotte wrote in Salon, “That Iowa evangelicals turned out to back Trump isn’t a betrayal of their values. It reveals the values that always fueled their movement. It’s just the last bit of plausible deniability has faded away.”
Since its origins opposing civil rights for Black Americans, the Religious Right has waged a masterful public relations campaign to provide cover for its true agenda. “Moral majority,” “family values,” “pro-life,” “person of faith,” “compassionate conservative,” and even “religious right” are all clever devices that would fascinate any linguaphile if not for all the harm they’ve caused.
Of course, the real genius of their scheme is that nobody ever really had to be fooled. The jig has been up for a long time, yet it still works. Surveys have found evangelicals know less about religion and the Bible than atheists and other nones. Another conducted by a theological group uncovered “rampant confusion about basic Christian beliefs.” And data shows that Christians account for more divorces and abortions than any religious group.
To say evangelicals are “voting against their interests” not only perpetuates the romantic notion that these are morally righteous folks who practice what they preach but also denies the reality that their interests are, in fact, every bit as hateful and harmful as the ones they vote for.
Reporting from Iowa,
Director of Communications
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