The Hot Mic That Broke the Evangelical's Back
Posted: Nov 13, 2016
It’s safe to say that even before presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s recent "hot mic" controversy, the billionaire was about as disliked as a major party presidential candidate can get. Even a large percentage of his supporters fell lock-step behind him, not because of any overflow of love for the candidate, but more for their rather strong dislike of his opponent Hillary Clinton. A late August Quinnipiac poll found this to be the case, with 64% of respondents saying that their primary reason for supporting Trump was to take down Hillary Clinton. In comparison, only 41% of Clinton supporters said the reverse about Trump.
Still, many of Trump’s evangelical supporters placed their hopes in the candidate for very tangible and personal reasons, although in the process likely compromising no small amount of their integrity. Trump’s evangelical supporters are mostly betting on the statistically small chance that Trump will have the opportunity to stack the court with conservative judges who may be able to end abortion. But this hope rests in a confluence of events occurring, such as judge retirements or deaths, Trump’s judge picks getting through the confirmation process in Congress, a Congressional election that results in a majority of conservatives in both the House and the Senate, and at least one relevant abortion case actually making it before the Supreme Court.
For many of the conservative leaders and other longtime conservatives who dutifully took up the Trump mantle and who only barely clung to the idea of a Trump presidency anyway, when the "hot mic" recording dropped, so, too, did their support. America’s evangelicals have always had a hard time compromising their beliefs when mixing it up in the overwhelmingly secular world of politics. Even at his best, Trump represents the worst candidate that evangelicals could have conceivably supported. Yet the latest stink of Trump’s bout with ill repute is perhaps going to be the hardest to wash off, and the most difficult to justify, especially to non-Christians.
Against All Odds
In July, the Pew Research Center found that four-fifths of evangelicals had already thrown their support behind Donald Trump. Based on other research from Pew, that accounts for 36% of all registered voters, and even includes a fair number of registered Democrats as well as Republicans. Although only slightly higher, more evangelicals support Trump than supported Mitt Romney in 2012. That number was high but stood at 73%.
For a candidate who many believed could never become the Republican nominee, Donald Trump defied all odds to get to this point and to win the evangelical vote. Political statistician Nate Silver distinctly pooh-poohed Trump’s chances again and again in 2015 and in the earlier parts of 2016 leading up to the presidential primaries. In his November 2015 article, "Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls", Silver wrote:
So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era. And second, as is always a problem in the analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity. For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.
In typical Nate Silver fashion, and in what is generally good statistical analysis anyway, Silver avoided going so far as to saying that Trump couldn’t win. Just that it was highly unlikely. After all, why would anyone believe that a man known for his open misogyny, his many failed and often vice-centric businesses, his multiple children by multiple wives, and his complete and utter lack of any substantial Biblical knowledge would actually garner the support of a group that supported him so little only a year ago? Indeed, around this time in 2015, Trump had garnered only about 20% of the white evangelical vote.
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