Farewell to the Party of Reagan. On Tuesday night, white evangelicals set fire to what remained of Reagan Republicanism and overwhelmingly endorsed Trumpism, a toxic brew of white ethno-nationalist populism spiked with heavy doses of misogyny and xenophobia. In doing so, they may have also destroyed their witness to the nation.
According to exit polls, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. That number should stun on its own, but its historical outrageousness becomes clearer when considering it represents higher support than George W. Bush received from white evangelicals in his two election bids.
Despite that enthusiastic endorsement, some conservative Christian leaders are already trying to distance evangelicals from their complicity in the results. On his blog at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer wrote that evangelicals needed to “accept the outcome and what it means,” as if evangelicals had to struggle to come to terms with a result they had in fact created.
Other evangelicals, in an attempt to separate themselves from the full meaning of what they have done, have been busy recirculating a Washington Post article from earlier this month that detailed how “deep disgust” for Hillary Clinton drove evangelicals to vote for Trump, a desperate attempt to pretend this election was about rejecting Clinton rather than backing Trump.
But “votes against Clinton” is not what history will record.
Instead, white evangelicals will forever be associated with Donald Trump in the minds of the American people. And they will pay the price for that association.
No longer the grassroots tidal wave that brought Ronald Reagan into office; no more the loyal base that ensured George W. Bush’s two terms. They are now the Trumpvangelicals, a political movement that told us character and conscience mattered while they sacrificed principle on the altar of politics to elect a demagogic despot who demeaned the American people and belittled the Christian faith.
Since evangelicals became heavily involved in politics in the late 1970s, there have been some who worried what that engagement would mean for their prophetic voice to the nation. Those worries grew especially pronounced in moments of defeat. When Bill Clinton won two terms in the 1990s, some evangelical leaders argued conservative Christians needed to redirect their resources and energy to saving the lost rather than trying to elect Republicans to office.
Following Obama’s victory in 2008, Cal Thomas, a former Moral Majority leader, echoed those sentiments, advocating evangelicals abandon politics for the more important work of proselytizing. “If conservative evangelicals choose obscurity and seek to glorify God,” Thomas wrote, “they will get much of what they hope for, but can never achieve, in and through politics.”
These leaders worried that in wasting time on political losses, evangelicals were sacrificing their opportunity to spread the Gospel. But the reality proved far worse. In ensuring the most awful political victory in our nation’s history, white evangelicals have permanently damaged their moral witness.
White evangelicals won Trump the presidency in 2016. But what they will have lost in doing so is only beginning to be measured.