I’ve seen references to a recent National Review piece about the “Reluctant Trump” voter, and to be completely honest, I think it offers a complete cop-out category for people who claim to be troubled by many of Trump’s words and actions but have no legitimate other choice.
Reality doesn’t bear that out.
The white evangelical base is far and away the Republican party’s most powerful base. If white evangelical Christians wanted a different candidate in 2016 – one who still would have adhered to many of their same faith-based initiatives – they had an assortment to choose from, including many who have a much stronger track record of supporting white evangelicals’ favored initiatives both politically and with their lifestyle. The group chose Trump. And they did so overwhelmingly.
Since then, as Trump has openly disagreed with one of the central tenets of Jesus’ teaching – loving our enemies – (at a National Prayer Breakfast), essentially equated himself to the second coming of Christ (back in August), and repeatedly uses the Lord’s name in vain to point to merely three things that would have essentially wiped out any politician’s support among white evangelicals any time prior to five years ago. Not to mention the blatant racism, misogyny (not only bragging about “grabbing them by the pussy,” but having dozens of women accuse him of sexual assault over the years), affairs with porn stars (while his wife is caring for their newborn child) and hush money payments to keep such affairs quiet, etc.
Trump enjoyed a higher percentage of support in the 2016 election from white evangelicals than any prior Republican candidate. That support has barely wavered despite all of the above (plus all the ways he’s undermined our democracy that would’ve immediately had this group demanding, rightfully, that any prior president – regardless of party – be removed from office. We can see the evidence in how the base abandoned another Republican president, Richard Nixon, whose misdeeds were significantly less damaging to national security and, yes, the sanctity of elections).
The National Review piece takes issue with the simplifying of categories to “Never Trump” and “Always Trump.” But then it leans into the idea of a binary choice by essentially saying the supposed “Reluctant Trump” voters have only two choices: Trump or a hypothetical democratic candidate. That’s simply false.
At any moment, if the white evangelicals were to speak out (in any sort of cohesive fashion) against anything Trump is doing, including merely his language, it would lead to swift changes. Because that group is the base. With just 75 percent support, Trump can’t win reelection. While claiming to be suffering persecution, the white evangelical base is actually the single most powerful group in the country: that base alone made the difference in the 2016 election, and Trump and his team know it. If that base expressed even the slightest dissatisfaction in anything he does, it would lead to changes because he knows he can’t lose them and remain in office.
And for every “reluctant Trump voter,” there are hundreds of Republicans who could check every mark on their policies list if they decided to support them instead. They had that choice in 2016 with numerous other options in the primaries. They chose Trump. They’ve had that choice every moment since. The fact that there is minimal (if any – usually it’s no) pushback when Trump does the things that supposedly make someone a “reluctant” rather than blind allegiance supporter really undermines the claim that there is reluctance. That group could make a huge difference if it really was reluctant. It chooses not to.
No prior president has received such unwavering support from a base of people. Speaking out and criticizing things you disagree with about a president of your own party whom you voted for has long been a part of our culture. It forces presidents to see where they need to take a step back because they’re losing the support of their base.
The Trump base doesn’t do that; in fact, it attacks and tries to kick out anyone who does. For examples, look at Justin Amash and Mitt Romney. Look at Christianity Today. People and publications with lengthy (in fact, much longer than Trump’s) resumes of conservative bona fides are immediately cast out and demeaned as liberal (which is laughable in every instance).
I fully believe many people were reluctant Trump voters in 2016. It was a horrible choice between two lousy candidates. But the silence since then and the refusal to speak out either in support of a potential different Republican candidate or at least to leash a president out of control and rein him in undermines the claim of reluctance.
For the “reluctant Trump voter,” the impeachment trial SHOULD have been the perfect opportunity: contrary to all the Fox News claims, it would not have wiped out the 2016 election in any way or negated the voice of the voters. It would not have made Hillary Clinton president; it would have made Mike Pence president. Pence, someone who far more closely aligns with the professed stances and lifestyle promoted by the “reluctant Trump voters,” should have been the perfect opportunity to move on from someone willing to burn the country to the ground if it will benefit him or his interests and instead place someone in the White House who unequivocally fits the “white evangelical Christian” mold.
Instead, the base stayed behind Trump. Like I mentioned, even a seemingly small dip in his support from the white evangelical base would have made all the difference. The margins in this country are that thin. But senators see the base and go with it. Only one followed his faith, his conscience, and the Constitution. How many “Reluctant Trump” voters supported that decision, acknowledging how difficult it must have been for him even if they might not agree with it?
Trump is not the only choice. In fact, he’s only the choice because white evangelicals chose him. Further, if you take issue with anything he says or does, speak out about it. With the thin margins of electoral victory in our country, even a small percentage of “Reluctant Trump” voters could make a huge difference, because everyone in Trump’s camp know their voices matter. The fact that they haven’t spoken out empowers Trump to continue pushing (or outright destroying) boundaries. Then the “Reluctant Trump voters” silently sit and shake their heads and think, “well, this is sad but we have no other option.”
Everything about this is unprecedented. Particularly since I know the vast majority of Christians I know would place themselves in this mythical “Reluctant Trump” category. The sheer numbers don’t add up, and neither does the self-image of helplessness in the midst of awesome electoral power.
Your voice matters. It matters more than almost everyone else in the country, because in theory you are part of the small contingent that could choose not to vote for Trump (or not to vote at all) and make the difference in the next election. He can’t afford to lose you. You have more power than you can possibly imagine.
Recently, an Arkansas pastor wrote an op-ed speaking out against the political idolatry currently taking place. A few days later, he wrote about the response he received from evangelicals – the same group of which he is part. The responses were horrifying and devastating to anyone who takes the commands of Jesus seriously.
This is the problem. With prior presidents, people in the base spoke out when they had concerns. It was natural and often led to a change. With this president, the few people who speak out are vilified (or worse) by the base. Either the “Reluctant Trump” voters don’t actually exist, or they choose to stay silent as people butcher the image of Jesus in their treatment of others who speak out about concerns the “Reluctant Trump” voters might even claim to share.
In the end, the “Reluctant Trump” voter claim is a cop-out. If it weren’t, they would actually express reluctance. In today’s world with social media and the internet, it’s easier than ever to do so. And it would make a difference. It’s true, the choice has never been binary, even through the “Reluctant Trump” voters seem to act like it is: vote for Trump silently or vote for a democrat.
The supposed “Reluctant Trump” voters are the most powerful voters in our country. If they’re not going to express their “reluctance,” they can call themselves whatever they want. The end result is no different from the blind allegiance voters.