Trump criticizes evangelical leaders for not supporting him by 2024

(CNN) — Just days before Donald Trump is set to hold his first campaign rally for the 2024 election in South Carolina, a state whose evangelical population has long played a pivotal role in his presidential primaries, the former president lashed out at religious conservatives who have refused to endorse his third presidential bid.

Trump’s comments to conservative journalist David Brody, during an interview on Monday in which he criticized the “disloyalty” of evangelical leaders who have denied their public support for his campaign, are the latest in a series of disconcerting claims he has made. over one of the most crucial voting blocs for the Republican primary.

“No one has done more for the right to life than Donald Trump. I put in three Supreme Court justices, whose votes got something they’ve been fighting for for 64 years, for many, many, years,” Trump told Brody. , referring to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal abortion rights in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision last summer.

“There is great disloyalty in the world of politics and that is a sign of disloyalty,” Trump continued, lamenting evangelical leaders who have not supported his campaign.

Earlier this month, Trump also criticized abortion opponents for losing “a large number of voters” in the 2022 midterm elections, “especially those who strongly insisted that there be no exceptions, even in case of rape, incest or life of the mother”. The comments on his Truth Social platform drew harsh retorts from several prominent religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who, in a thinly veiled criticism of Trump, lashed out at Republicans. who have advocated an “ostrich strategy” on abortion, preferring to ignore the issue rather than raise it in critical elections.

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Trump reaffirmed this sentiment in his interview with Brody, admitting that he advised 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon of Michigan that they would face a more difficult road to victory for refusing to support exceptions to abortion restrictions, such as when the mother’s life is in danger. Both candidates ultimately lost their respective contests.

As CNN previously reported, Trump spent much of the midterm election cycle privately complaining to advisers and allies that the overturning of Roe v. Wade hurt Republicans by raising the issue and diverting attention from more favorable issues like inflation. and crime.

Trump’s recent complaints about evangelicals and anti-abortionists have puzzled allies and advisers who recognize the crucial role both groups play in the conservative ecosystem and their influence in presidential primaries, a dynamic the former president appears to be very keen on. aware.

In 2016, Trump’s main reason for choosing Mike Pence, the self-described “devout evangelical” and then-governor of Indiana, as his running mate was to shore up support among religious conservatives who remained deeply skeptical of his own brand of brash politics. .

That same mission could prove more difficult in a crowded 2024 primary, as Trump works to convince primary voters that he is the most eligible and advancing of their causes in a second administration.

“There is no path to the nomination without winning the evangelical vote. No one knows this better than President Trump because, to the surprise of almost everyone, he won their support in 2016,” said Ralph Reed, executive director of Faith & Freedom. Coalition, which has long been close to the former president.

“It’s going to have a very fair hearing among voters of faith. But it will be a very close primary, with many pro-life candidates, and all of them will have the opportunity to make their case,” Reed added. “No one should assume that the evangelical vote is said or closed for them.”

Evangelicals begin to turn away from Trump

Some prominent evangelical leaders have already begun to publicly distance themselves from Trump, concerned that he will not be as eligible as other Republicans against President Joe Biden.

“Time to turn the page. America must move on. Step off stage with class,” Bob Vander Plaats, Family Leader’s president and CEO, tweeted.

In a November op-ed titled “It’s Time for the GOP to Say It: Donald Trump Is Hurting Us, Not Helping Us,” Dr. Everett Piper, a former president of a Christian college, wrote that Trump “hindered rather than assist the long-awaited ‘red wave'” in the 2022 midterm elections.

Trump has not only contributed to declining support for Republicans among key demographics such as suburban women, but his own support among white evangelical and Catholic voters — two demographics he won in 2016 — was already softening for his 2020 campaign, long before he began insulting evangelical leaders for their “disloyalty.” CNN’s exit polls of Trump’s 2020 race against Biden show him garnering 56% support among white Catholic voters nationwide, down 4 points from 2016, also dropping 4 points to 76. % among white evangelical voters.

An evangelical leader, who requested anonymity to speak freely, downplayed public support for religious leaders, saying Trump’s fate will be determined by the faithful and voters themselves.

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“The evangelical faithful moved towards Trump faster than the evangelical leaders. It was not the leaders who led the laity,” this person told CNN, while noting that conservative Christians in his own community were divided on whether to support to Trump in 2024, with many looking for a new candidate to advance the former president’s agenda.

Some advisers to the former president insist they are not worried about the repercussions of his recent comments. Trump remains in regular contact with high-profile evangelical leaders. The advisers argue that the results Trump delivered to religious conservatives — from advancing anti-abortion policies and appointing hundreds of conservative federal judges to relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem — will provide a stark contrast once the field of the 2024 Republican Party take shape and opponents begin to attack Trump’s conservative bona fides.

“President Trump’s unmatched record speaks for itself: nominating anti-abortion federal judges and Supreme Court justices who threw out Roe v. Wade, ending taxpayer-funded abortions, reinstating ‘City of Mexico’ that protects the lives of the unborn abroad, and many other actions that defended the lives of the unborn. There has been no greater supporter of the movement than President Trump,” said Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung, speaking to CNN.

Others close to Trump have speculated that his decision to blame Republicans’ poor performance in 2022 on abortion opponents has more to do with his own unwillingness to acknowledge the negative impact he had on the midterm elections.

“The evangelicals put Trump in the White House and justified it by saying that he would appoint conservative judges,” a former adviser told CNN. “Him Now he’s walking away from his one clean win for them and tearing them apart in the process. It’s counterproductive.”

In the coming months, the former president will continue to emphasize the achievements of his first term that endeared him to religious conservatives, a person familiar with the matter said. He will also maintain his outreach to prominent figures within the religious right, some of whom are eagerly awaiting to see what other Republicans launch into the 2024 primaries. As Trump works to court religious conservatives, his early announcement may put him at a disadvantage against some of its potential rivals.

A federal law barring churches from participating in political campaigns could prevent Trump from speaking directly to evangelicals in megachurches across the country, something former Vice President Mike Pence has been doing as part of his recent literary tour.

It’s unclear if Trump will participate in the annual “March for Life” on Washington later this week, when one of his potential primary opponents, Pence, is scheduled to host participants at the nearby office of his political group, Advancing American Freedom. Cheung declined to comment on the former president’s plans.

Still, Trump’s past accomplishments may not carry the same weight in a primary that his campaign hopes. In the days after he announced his campaign from the Mar-a-Lago ballroom, an event attended by few of his most prominent evangelical allies, the former president was urged by Dannenfelser to offer “a strong national pro-life vision” if he and others want to be competitive in the primaries.

Trump had not mentioned any of his achievements in the anti-abortion sphere during his campaign announcement speech, something Dannenfelser and others noted.

His reluctance so far to back calls for a national abortion ban by conservative groups and anti-abortion activists could also prove problematic in a primary against Pence or others who have supported such efforts.

“I welcome any and all efforts to advance the cause of life in state capitals or in the nation’s capital,” Pence said last September when asked about a bill proposed by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who would enact federal restrictions on abortion.

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