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Can Trump win the US Christian vote?

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US Christian vote - The Catholic weekly
Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in their first US presidential campaign debate in Atlanta 27 June 2024. (OSV News photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

Eight years ago in this column, I described Donald Trump as “vulgar, pro-death penalty, pro-gun, anti-immigration and anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic and [someone who] fails to uphold and affirm the dignity of women and the poor.” My opinion of the man has not changed in that time.  

My view of his opponent is not much better. While he doesn’t suffer from the same flaws as Trump, President Joe Biden has other problems (and I am not talking about his cognitive decline, which was on full display during last week’s presidential debate.) Despite being a massgoing Catholic who carries a rosary in his pocket, he has wholeheartedly embraced abortion, even making the sign of the cross during an abortion rally. He famously issued a presidential proclamation on Easter Sunday, naming it the “Transgender Day of Visibility.” 

The two candidates present a long list of problems for any Christian voter serious about their faith. One thing has changed this election. Trump’s three appointments to the Supreme Court have given it a conservative majority. Since the last time Trump and Biden faced off, the court has now overturned Roe v. Wade and passed judgments in support of religious freedoms, including one that upheld the right of a web designer to decline a request to create a website for a same-sex wedding. 

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When it comes to courting the Christian vote this time, the former President has some runs on the board, and it is clear he is using them to their maximum effect. 

In just one instance, Trump’s address to the Faith and Freedom Coalition about a fortnight ago contained a grab-bag of statements that spoke right to the concerns of everyday people of faith, like religious freedom, abortion and gender ideology. 

For example, Trump pledged to create a federal taskforce on fighting anti-Christian bias. “Its mission will be to investigate all forms of illegal discrimination, harassment, persecution against Christians in America,” he said, while pointing out that law enforcement appears to have been weaponised against Christians in recent years. “Never again will the federal government be used to target religious believers … Americans of faith are not a threat to our country; Americans of faith are the soul of our country.” 

Trump also promised to protect pro-life activists, vowing that on his first day in office, he would pardon eight people who, in May of this year, were sentenced to between two and five years in prison for blocking the entrance of an abortion facility during a protest. One such person convicted is 75-year-old Paula Harlow, who was sentenced to two years in prison. Harlow is in such poor health that her husband pleaded with the judge to allow him to go to prison with her. “Let’s call these brave Americans what they really are: persecuted Christians,” Trump told the crowd. “Just hold on, Paula. We’re going to get you out of there.” 

Perhaps the biggest cheer from the crowd came when Trump took aim at gender ideology, telling the crowd that he will “take historic action to defeat the poison of left-wing gender ideology and restore the timeless truth that God created two genders, male and female. And I will immediately, on my first day, sign an executive order to keep men out of women’s sports.” 

He also vowed to cut federal funding for any school pushing “transgender insanity” and backed parental choice in education, including faith-based schools and homeschooling, promising to allow the first $10,000 of homeschooling expenses to be tax deductible. 

In a classic scene in the Michael Douglas political rom-com The American President (1995), one of the president’s advisers says: “People want leadership, Mr President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” 

While not wanting to judge Trump’s heart, it appears to me that his commitment to religious faith is more a mirage than an oasis. Absent anyone else being courageous enough to offer voters even a fraction of what Trump is advancing, my bet is that many Americans of faith, thirsty for someone to advocate for them, will gladly drink sand this November.  

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