Evangelicals: A true test of faith in Trump
A BOASTFUL Donald Trump basked in the adulation of Christian conservatives at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as he recalled their surprisingly strong support in the hard-fought Republican presidential primaries. He will need them again come November 8.
Evangelicals form a powerful voting bloc that the billionaire Republican must win by significant margins in key swing states if he is to defeat Hillary Clinton at the ballot box.
Many religious conservatives favour Mr Trump, even after many backed Ben Carson or Ted Cruz, candidates with stronger faith pedigrees, in the primary battle.
But in a series of interviews, several evangelical voters and leaders told AFP they hold deep reservations about the real estate tycoon and his combative rhetoric, personal character and morality.
Mr Trump, a Presbyterian, is a twice-divorced casino magnate who made millions on a gambling empire. He has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and stands accused of demeaning women and cheating employees – hardly the qualities of humility and virtue sought by faith-based voters.
“It’s a quandary for evangelicals, there’s no question about it,” acknowledged Mike Hamlet, who has been a pastor at First Baptist North Spartanburg in the southern state of South Carolina for 32 years.
In Mr Trump they see a deeply flawed man, but one who nonetheless hews more closely to their Biblical values, in particular protecting the unborn, than does Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Churchgoers on a recent Sunday in Spartanburg, a white evangelical stronghold, hesitated when asked about Mr Trump, but said ultimately they would support him.
“I don’t think that my standard candidate is on the ballot, but I’m going to vote to the right,” said Pam Dean, 59, who works with special needs children.
There are about 62 million bornagain or evangelical Christian Americans, according to Pew Research Center. A large majority of white evangelicals support Mr Trump, but many say they will cast their vote against Ms Clinton.
“I think that is as much because of Hillary Clinton’s opposition to Biblical values,” Pastor Hamlet said. “We’re not going to have any candidates that are more pro-abortion than she is.”
Ms Clinton, 68, is a Methodist, and has cited the teachings of Jesus while campaigning.
Evangelicals also largely align with the Republican Party on most issues, including national security, immigration and taxes.
But there is little unbridled enthusiasm for him among evangelicals, and Mr Trump’s camp is worried that like in 2012, many may choose to stay home on election day.
Evangelical participation may not decide the outcome in conservative South Carolina, which has not voted Democratic since 1976.
But in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, evangelicals could prove Mr Trump’s saviour, or his undoing.
“I think the jury is still out for some people, but personally when I look at the alternative, he is the only choice for me,” said Alexia Newman, director of the pro-life Carolina Pregnancy Center. –
Donald Trump is seen as the lesser evil by evangelicals.