2020 and the religious right: 'If Trump loses evangelical support, you can stick a fork in him'


Frank Lockwood is not your ordinary Washington, D.C., correspondent.

His career trajectory has featured a mix of political reporting and stints as religion editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader and later the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

At one point, he was known — as GetReligion’s archives attest — as the “Bible Belt Blogger.”

So when my Google News Alert for mentions of “evangelicals” turned up a Lockwood piece on President Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with evangelical leaders, I wasn’t surprised to find an insightful piece.

Lockwood, who has reported for the Democrat-Gazette from the nation’s capital since 2015, gets politics and religion. And he works for a newspaper that still strives hard to report stories such as this in an impartial, balanced manner — as in, no snark concerning Trump and the religious voters who make up such a crucial part of his base.

The Democrat-Gazette’s lede:

Evangelicals, who were crucial to President Donald Trump's election, are pleased thus far with their White House ally, prominent leaders say.

The New York Republican is counting on his Christian conservative base to help him win a second term.

"I love the evangelicals. And they love me," Trump said in February, repeating a line he had also employed during the 2016 campaign.

The strength of that relationship will matter on Election Day 2020, pollsters say.

Without a fired-up white evangelical voting base, Trump's possible pathways to a second term narrow considerably, according to pollster Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.

"They're a quarter of all voters and they vote 80 percent Republican, so it's a very important constituency on the Republican side of politics," said Jones, the author of The End of White Christian America.

Why report this story now?

Keep reading, and Lockwood explains the timing:

With election season nearing, Trump is emphasizing his support for God and religious liberty.

The president dined with some of the nation's leading evangelicals Wednesday evening and then welcomed them to the White House for a religious service Thursday afternoon.

At a ceremony marking the annual National Day of Prayer, Southern Baptist singers led the crowd in praise and worship. And at the end, a Pentecostal televangelist thanked God for giving Trump "the victory through Christ Jesus" and commanded "every demonic network to be scattered right now."

Although there were prayers by leaders of other faith traditions, the overall atmosphere was a familiar one to Southern Evangelical Seminary President Richard Land.

"You know, this is like a revival meeting," the Southern Baptist said after the last "Amen" had been uttered.

Before departing, several other evangelical leaders in the audience expressed confidence in Trump's leadership.

Lockwood does a nice job of allowing evangelical leaders to explain — in their own words — why they support Trump.

At the same time, he quotes sources who disagree with the religious right’s embrace of the thrice-married billionaire.

The piece ends with a bang:

On Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale highlighted a recent campaign rally in Wisconsin with a tweet that said: "There has never been and probably never will be a movement like this again. Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation and only God could allow me to help. God bless America!"

The alliance between evangelicals and Trump is mystifying to some observers, including Max Boot, author of The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right.

"I'm troubled by the way that evangelicals kind of give this quasi-religious backing to Donald Trump," said Boot, a national security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "I just am struggling to figure out how people who pride themselves on being churchgoing and believers in the Ten Commandments can possibly countenance somebody who violates so many of those commandments."

Strategically, however, it makes sense for Trump to shore up his base, Boot said.

"If Trump loses evangelical support, you can stick a fork in him. He's done," he said.

Lockwood did a nice job with this one. No surprise, really, given the journalist, but it was wonderful coming across his byline again.

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