January 17, 2020

Why Did Evangelical Christians Vote for Trump?

Blue tit

I watched a brief interview with Richard Land on the PBS NewsHour recently, and I wanted to mention it here because I found it interesting. For those who don't know, Land served as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1998 to 2013 and hosted a national radio show from 2002-2012. He's now the editor of The Christian Post. He's an evangelical fundamentalist Christian and is also what most of us would probably call a Christian extremist.

Land was being interviewed about everyone's favorite subject: Donald Trump. Specifically, he was on to answer questions about how he, as an evangelical Christian, could have supported Trump. I think that most of us figured out how this works some time ago, but many in our mainstream news media still seem confused. Anyway, I thought Land did an admirable job of explaining it and that his explanation should settle the matter once and for all.

Land noted repeatedly that in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Trump was his last choice of candidate. Remember all those horrible Republican candidates? Trump was Land's last choice. So what happened? What happened was that Trump won the Republican primary over the objections of Land and at least some others like him. And once he won the party's nomination, Land was faced with the same bad choice we had: Trump or Clinton. Not surprisingly, he chose Trump because he regarded Trump as the lesser of two evils.

The fact that Land chose Trump over Clinton should surprise no one. Land is a conservative Christian. As much as he seemed to have disliked Trump as a person, he was far more closely aligned with Trump's policies than those of Clinton. He spelled this all out explicitly in the interview. If memory serves, he even used the words "lesser of two evils."

Since Trump took office, Land has expressed support for him whenever Trump has done something with which he has agreed. He identified a few areas where he said that Trump has exceeded his expectations (e.g., packing the courts with conservative judges). And when Trump has said things of which Land disapproved on Twitter, he has either ignored him or sought to distance himself from him.

As I watched the interview, I found myself thinking that this is exactly how most of us operate. We vote for seriously flawed candidates because we perceive them as being at least somewhat preferable to what the other major party has to offer. Once they are in office, we express support when they do things we like. We either criticize them or seek to distance ourselves from them when they do things we do not like. Most of the time, none of this makes us feel like hypocrites.

As the Democratic primaries draw near, many of us are poised to do the same thing. We will vote for the candidate we perceive as least bad in the primary, and many of us will unenthusiastically support whoever wins the primary even if it is not the person we hoped would win it. In short, we are going to operate like Land has even if the candidates most of us support will be different ones.

Update: It should be pointed out that not all evangelical Christians support Trump. In fact, some are finally beginning to get vocal in opposing him.