When bad things happen in life, we naturally seek to find a way to regain power over ourselves. One way we do that is to assign blame. Instead of large, faceless forces being responsible for an event, we pick a person or group of people, and channel our negativity into that group.
It’s a natural impulse, but really, it’s time to stop blaming evangelicals for the Donald Trump candidacy. It’s not their fault that Trump is ruining the Republican Party.
As a note, when I (and most) talk about evangelicals, we’re not talking about a literal, textbook definition of an evangelical church. Some languages use “evangelical” the way we use “protestant,” but in America that’s not what we mean at all. We’re talking about a particular kind of evangelical church. Every one is different, but we tend to imagine churches that are independent or part of smaller organizations, churches with doctrines such as sola scriptura, but also churches with members who read books like Left Behind. It’s as much a cultural thing as it is a technical matter.
But why do we want to blame evangelicals for Trump? Mostly because Trump said so, and we need to stop doing that. He doesn’t own the right in America, as much as he wants to.
He’s been repeating since January that “the evangelicals love me,” even though he got beaten in Iowa, one of those key states for evangelical support. But he kept saying it anyway! He says a lot of things though. We have no reason to believe anything he says is true, since he’ll lie freely to feed his own ego.
He only got 40% of the vote in the primary. Trump doesn’t represent evangelicals, Republicans, conservatives, or anyone else. He had every advantage in the primary process, including an unprecedented unpaid media slant and active coaching from the RNC to help his campaign along. Despite all that, he got a shockingly low percentage of the vote. This was a win by technicality, not by acclamation.
But he did win the nomination. So now what’s happened since? Every media outlet declares him the Republican nominee. Prominent conservatives and cultural evangelical leaders, obsessed with Hillary Clinton due to a 20 year old nursed grudge, endorse Trump in order to slay the Great White Cankles. However the evangelicals (and other Republicans for that matter) don’t know why these endorsements are happening. They just hear people saying Trump is the guy to vote for!
We who follow politics, particularly online, very often make bad assumptions about what’s common knowledge and what isn’t. We know a lot more about the names and the issues than most people ever cared to find out. The things we know about Trump and his core supporters, they shock and appall us, but most Republicans out there haven’t heard any of it!
So if you’re just a regular person, evangelical or not, what have you heard about Donald Trump? Fox News has been blaring for a year that he’ll appoint good judges, he’ll be strong, and he’ll support your values in office. They also see how his campaign is wrapping itself in the flag, and of course there’s that ever present slogan on the red hats. It’s a show of patriotism, and the kind of people we think of as cultural evangelicals do love to wave the flag.
These ordinary folks aren’t trying to vote in a white nationalist realignment for America. Heck, most of them didn’t even vote in the primaries. Trump got 14 million votes in the primaries. That’s less than a quarter of the vote total Mitt Romney got in the 2012 general election. The people who vote in the primaries are a self-selected subset of the general voting public. We can’t forget that.
The people of America, evangelicals included, count on the system working. They expect “the cream to rise to the top” such that Americas best become our Presidential candidates. You and I know that’s not the case, but that’s because we’ve been paying attention to this stuff for over a year now.
Most Trump voters are simply assuming Trump is just like every other Republican, is being called a horrible human being because he’s the Republican, and are tuning out everything but Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity because they want to root for their team.
Blame CNN, Fox News, the Republican National Committee, and talk radio if you want to pin the Donald Trump disaster on anyone. The news networks gave him uncounted hours of free coverage, and softball interviews. The RNC helped him campaign, and rigged the convention. Talk radio puffed him up for ratings. Evangelicals didn’t drive this car off the cliff. They’re just along for the ride, like the rest of us.