Political reporters, pundits, and party strategists trying to understand U.S. evangelicals sometimes seem like David Livingstone or Margaret Mead scrutinizing an exotic jungle tribe they’ve stumbled upon. Analysts especially scratch heads on how those nice churchgoing Protestant folks could ever vote for a dissolute guy like Donald Trump.
(Standard terminology note: In American political-speak, “Evangelicals” almost always means white evangelicals, because African-American Protestants, though often similar in faith, are so distinct culturally and politically.)
That Trump conundrum is taken up yet again by a self-described “friendly observer/participant” with evangelicalism, Regent University political scientist A.J. Nolte. His school’s CEO, Pat Robertson, proclaimed candidate Trump “God’s man for the job.” Yet Nolte posted his point of view on Charlie Sykes’s thebulwark.com. This young site brands Trump “a serial liar, a narcissist and a bully, a con man who mocks the disabled and women, a man with no fixed principles who has the vocabulary of an emotionally insecure 9-year-old.” Don’t hold back, #NeverTrump folks.
Nolte, a Catholic University Ph.D. who belongs on your source list, did not vote for the president and remains “deeply Trump-skeptical.” He considers evangelicals’ bond with Trump “unwise” in the long term and “almost certain to do more harm than good.” He thinks believers’ Trump support “is shallower and more conditional than it appears” and even muses about a serious primary challenge. The Religion Guy disputes that, but agrees with Nolte that evangelical women under 45 are the most likely to spurn the president next year.
Nolte offers a nicely nuanced version of outsiders’ scenario that “existential fear” on religious-liberty issues drove Trump support in 2016 and still does.
Is this irrational?
Nolte says evangelicals have “a valid concern that religion and religious arguments will be pushed out of the public square altogether.”