For decades, it’s been widely understood that religious conservatives are a force to be reckoned with in American politics. Millions of evangelical Christian voters — led by dynamic, charismatic leaders of the so-called “Religious Right” — have bent our electoral system to their will, helping propel Republican candidates into the White House on several occasions. Even as their power waned in recent years, political analysts insisted that the era of “values voters” is not yet over, as faith-fueled activists worked to widen their rock-solid networks to include conservative Catholics, Jews, and America’s increasingly influential Mormon population.
This assessment may sound hyperbolic, but it is not the bullish musings of left-wing pundits. In fact, it is now the lament of several within the conservative Christian movement itself, many of whom watched in horror this past week as the traditionally ironclad bonds of the right-wing faithful were torn asunder as leaders battled over whether or not to continue supporting Trump’s increasingly chaotic campaign for president.
The dispute centered around a core question challenging right-wing faith leaders, who traditionally hold commanding influence over their flock: Can a committed conservative Christian support a candidate like Donald Trump, who not only struggles with faith questions but also has a record of, at the very least, bragging about sexually assaulting women?
The potential importance of this internal debate — which is equal parts political and theological — cannot be overstated. Although the outcome remains to be seen, its possible repercussions, both for the conservative Christian movement and for American politics writ large, are profound, and could alter elections for years to come.
“I don’t think Trump’s candidacy created a fissure as much as it illuminated one that has existed for a long time and is growing wider as younger generations of Christians come into adulthood.”