As of Monday night, Donald Trump’s average approval rating, as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, stands at 39.1 percent. That’s the second-worst average on record for any president at this early point in his administration, and the worst for any newly elected president at this point in his administration.
By any standard, a politician with numbers this bad would be in code-calling territory. But believe it or not, they would be even worse than that if not for the religious right. In case you missed it, two polls in April revealed that Trump retained implausibly high support among white evangelicals. First came Pew Research, which showed a whopping 78 percent of white evangelicals, and 80 percent of regular evangelical churchgoers, approved of Trump’s performance.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) April 26, 2017
Then came a poll from Fox News, which showed an equally staggering number–73 percent of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s performance.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 28, 2017
This is almost an exact match to how Trump did among white evangelicals in November, when a whopping 81 percent of them voted for Trump–more than what George W. Bush garnered in 2004. You don’t need to be a mathematician or statistician to figure out that if not for the fundies, Trump would already be cratering.
Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to wonder–how is it possible for there to be such a wide gulf between the religious right’s base and the nation at large? As someone who has spent some two decades watching the religious right, I suspect it’s because what passes for leadership in that movement has been verbally bullying anyone who regrets voting for Trump into silence.
Literally from the moment of Trump’s upset victory, the religious right has been loudly warning the nation–particularly evangelicals–against opposing him. Their explanation? Supposedly, the resistance to Trump is being driven by witchcraft, demons, and the devil himself. Any county that supported Hillary Clinton supposedly had a lightning bolt with its name on it. After all, if you stood against Trump, you were standing against God’s plan for this country.
You would have thought that when it became apparent that Trump was going to be an even bigger monster in office than feared, some scales would come off the fundies’ eyes. Nope. To hear some of these “moral guardians” talk, anyone who opposed Trump risks getting “smacked” by God for such insolence. After all, if you resist Trump, you oppose God himself. Therefore, any attempt to bring Trump down is sabotage–and God supposedly won’t stand for that. And for good measure, if you dare to oppose Trump, you risk bringing a curse on yourself and your family, down to the third generation.
Nine times out of ten, anyone who hears this sort of talk on a regular basis and voted for Trump is going to be just a little wary about speaking out about those regrets publicly. This point was driven home further two weeks ago. Mark Taylor, the so-called prophet who supposedly predicted Trump’s victory, claimed that Megyn Kelly had gotten sick before the first Republican primary debate because God knew she was going to rake Trump over the coals. To hear Taylor talk, Trump was anointed by God, and the Almighty was delivering a sobering warning to Kelly–“do not touch my anointed.”
Taylor was speaking in code. In many hypercharismatic circles, speaking out against leadership, or against popular evangelists, is considered “touching God’s anointed”–a hanging offense in these circles. He was warning the faithful that if you dare to speak against Trump, you’ll have to answer to God himself. If you hear that kind of message on a daily message and had soured on Trump, chances are that you wouldn’t say it publicly.
I initially thought that even if you take away these scare tactics, Trump’s support among fundies would be absolutely staggering. But after some six months of this continued verbal bullying, it becomes harder and harder to believe that Trump’s support among white evangelicals is nearly as high as it may seem. In the age of social media, it’s no longer possible to completely keep the real world out.
Robert Jones recently argued in The Atlantic that most of the religious right’s base was attracted to Trump’s “bright, if monochromatic” vision for this country. In the process, though, they were willing to prop up a man who found it acceptable to plaster a private cell phone number on social media, mock the disabled, and revel in degrading women, among other things.
And now they are also willing to bludgeon their supporters into falling into line behind Trump–at least publicly. But privately, it’s not too unreasonable to suggest that there are some evangelicals wondering, “What have we done?” And if enough of them turn on Trump and the GOP in the solitude of the ballot box, this so-called presidency will officially go on life support.
(featured image courtesy Rayttc, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)