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Nicolais: Could a generational divide over Trump lead to an evangelical exodus?

Recent editorials in leading evangelical publications may indicate a changing tide in the historically Republican voting bloc

On the sixth day before Christmas, Christianity Today gave to Trump … a walloping editorial that sent shockwaves across the country including in Colorado. The lasting effect on the Republican party with evangelicals could resonate for decades to come much less the Twelfth Night of Christmas.

CT editor in chief Mark Galli penned a scathing editorial lambasting Trump as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused” and calling for Trump to be removed from office, either via trial before the Senate or at the ballot box in 2020.

Mario Nicolais

While recognizing the partisan impeachment process and the multitude of positive policies enacted under his administration, Galli concluded that “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

The reaction came almost as quickly as Caiaphas tore at his clothes to decry Jesus of blasphemy.

Three days later 200 evangelical leaders – including Colorado’s own James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family – signed an open letter to CT president and CEO Timothy Dalrymple decrying Galli’s editorial.

Other notable signatories included evangelical Ralph Reed from the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Franklin Graham, the son of iconic evangelist and CT founder Billy Graham, also denounced Galli’s editorial.

To their likely chagrin, Dalrymple had already drafted a full-throated defense of Galli as he asserted, “at the end of the day, we write for a readership of One. God is our Tower. Let the whirlwind come.”

In fact, Dalrymple’s editorial expanded from Galli’s assertion and declared, “The problem is that we as evangelicals are also associate with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more. In other words, the problem is the wholeheartedness of the embrace.”

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

And if that weren’t enough, after CT competitor The Christian Post took Galli to task, its own politics editor, Napp Nazworth, resigned after he came to an “impasse” with his employer because he viewed its editorial as “announcing that The Christian Post is joining Team Trump.”

The back and forth may be enough to make some evangelicals envy the trials of Job.

For political purposes, depending on whom you believe, the rift either represents the ramblings of an elitist few or the full-fledged veil of the evangelical temple rent in two. The latter represents not just an existential crisis for Trump and his presidency, but a long-term quandary for all Republicans. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

In 2018, white, born-again/evangelical Christians supported Republicans running for Congress at a clip of 75%. No other major religious group eclipsed 56%. Any significant dip in those numbers could cause a ripple effect across the electoral spectrum. Republicans simply have no obvious alternative to replace lost evangelical voters. 

Unfortunately for them, that is precisely what some analysts already predict. Earlier this year, the left-of-center FiveThirtyEight website released data that young white evangelicals support for Trump had softened. As younger evangelicals tended to be more liberal on immigration and LGBT rights, their support for Trump teetered.

As an Episcopalian born on the second day of Christmas, which also happens to be the feast day for the patron saint of martyrs, I take note with great ironic interest. Over the past decade I have argued voiciferously for conservatives to take up the cause of LGBT equality. My efforts were regularly opposed most vehemently by older evangelical leaders such as Dobson. 

Now that generational divide may be super-charged by Galli, Dalrymple and Nazworth. Already leery of Trump and other Republicans, the moral cover provided by CT and its allies may grant young evangelical voters the freedom to abandon the party of their parents.

If that abandonment takes place within the next 10 months, the six days before this Christmas may prove to be the most consequential for the Republican Party in decades.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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