While it's clear Donald Trump is all-in for 2024, his MAGA hold on evangelicals may have lost some strength. A lot has happened since last time around: January 6th; the fallout with Mike Pence; the Mar-a-Lago classified documents; the continued focus on the past election and just overall drama. So does he have work to do this time around with evangelicals?
"He has real work to do, let's not kid ourselves," says his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. "I'm sure that the team has a plan, but the work with the evangelicals and others that he may have taken for granted in 2020 is very real."
As it stands, some of the prominent faithful who fervently backed Trump last time are still in the pews, not yet willing to commit. There's been no official support from the likes of Franklin Graham, Jack Graham or Albert Mohler – all previous backers. As for Pastor Robert Jeffress, once a vocal Trump defender says he'll wait until the primary season comes into focus. Dr. Mike Evans, who helped mobilize evangelicals for Trump says the former president does not personify biblical values and has been quoted as saying he, "does not have the support of the evangelicals that he did." Christian TV Host James Robison has also been critical this time around saying, "If Mr. Trump can't stop his little petty issues, how does he expect people to stop major issues?"
Lewandowski has a reason as to why this may be happening. "Some of these people love the Trump policies, but they don't like the chaos that sometimes ensues around him," he says. "I think they are waiting to see - is Ron DeSantis going to get in? Is Mike Pompeo going to get in? What is Mike Pence going to do? Are we going to see people like Chris Sununu or Kristi Noem get into the race for president as well? I think the field is still being developed."
Meanwhile, liberal media outlets like Vanity Fair are taking advantage of the budding controversy with headlines that scream, "We will get destroyed: evangelicals are quietly ditching Donald Trump's 2024 bid." The overall message is that evangelicals will consider other options like DeSantis, Pence and others if they get in. So what does Donald Trump think of all this? "Well, I don't really care, that's a sign of disloyalty," the former president tells CBN News. "There is great disloyalty in the world of politics and that's just disloyalty...nobody has ever done more for 'right to life' than Donald Trump."
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A public sign of trouble came after a social media post earlier this month by Trump regarding the midterm election results. He wrote that it was the "abortion issue, poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters."
Leaders of pro-life organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List didn't like those comments. "The approach to winning on abortion in federal races, proven for a decade is this: state clearly the ambitious consensus pro-life position and contrast that with the extreme view of Democrat opponents," a statement read. "We look forward to hearing that position fully articulated by Mr. Trump and all presidential candidates."
The former president tried to explain what he meant. "I want people to do what they have to do and keep their beliefs," Trump told CBN News. "But I think without exceptions, you know, Ronald Reagan and myself and others, many others, probably most others believe in the exception because if you don't have it, I think it's very, very hard, practically, to get elected."
Despite that misstep, Trump is still considered the most pro-life president in American history and evangelicals won't forget his other accomplishments including three Supreme Court justices, religious freedom victories, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and countless others.
Some 2024 faith support is already building. The group, "Pastors for Trump", led by Oklahoma Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, has chapters in each state. "When President Trump made his announcement that he was going to run and seek the nomination for the president of the United States, on the Republican side, there was a lot of pastors and faith leaders that were very silent," Pastor Lahmeyer tells CBN News. "I just began thinking that we need to rally pastors behind President Trump because we recognize that in our lifetime, there has not been a more pro-Christian president than Donald Trump."
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Even though that may be the case, there is still a lot of work to do. "We have not seen the type of outreach from his team that would historically have been conducted by now in a presidential campaign," Corey Lewandowski says. "So my advice is, do not take them for granted. They need to be cared and fed and talked to and listened to, and don't rely on what you did as the president, because these people want to see the continuation of those policies without some of the chaos that surrounds the campaign."
In the midst of any type of chaos, what's needed most is prayer. It was fervent last time around for Trump, and no matter whether evangelicals vote for him this time around, prayer for the upcoming election is definitely in order.
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