Faith leaders and anti-abortion groups are ramping up their efforts to reelect President Trump, rewarding a president who has become an unlikely hero of the Christian right because of his commitment to socially conservative causes.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition will spend tens of millions of dollars on a voter mobilization effort that aims to register 1 million Christians in key battleground states and reach 30 million people nationwide.
The group, which is led by conservative activist Ralph Reed, will pump literature into more than 100,000 churches across 18 states, primarily focusing on the presidential battlegrounds but also with an eye on contested House and Senate races.
The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, an anti-abortion rights group, has a budget of $41 million this campaign cycle to “expose the extremism of Trump’s opponents,” among other initiatives.
SBA List will pay more than 1,000 canvassers in eight battleground states with the aim of knocking on 4 million doors. The group will partner with local churches and anti-abortion groups in states such as North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Michigan and Arizona to turn out conservative voters for Trump’s reelection.
And the Family Research Council’s political action arm is activating its network of churches and community impact teams in North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas to turn out the vote.
“Trump’s support among Christian voters is at an absolute fever pitch right now,” said Lance Lemmonds, the communications director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Trump will speak at the group's Road To Majority conference in Washington next week. Organizers say the event will attract more than 2,000 activists, smashing through its previous attendance records.
Exit polls from 2016 found Trump received more than 80 percent support from evangelicals, a religious group that accounts for about one-quarter of the nation’s voting population. A recent Pew survey found Trump’s approval rating is sky high among evangelicals, at about 70 percent.
But faith leaders say that approval rating underestimates the amount of enthusiasm that exists for the president among religious conservatives, many of whom were skeptical that he would deliver on his promises when they voted for him the first time in 2016.
Now, they describe Trump as “the most pro-life president in history” and view him as a warrior for conservative cultural values on everything from protecting religious liberty to nominating conservative judges, including two Supreme Court justices.
They say the Christian right will turn out once again for Trump in 2020 and could tip the balance of the election in his favor.
“It’s a huge political force, especially now that the uncertainty is gone about how Trump would govern,” said Frank Cannon, the president of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank.
Trump’s supporters in the religious community have drawn accusations of hypocrisy from some, who view the president as immoral and say his rhetoric toward women and immigrants should be anathema to people of faith.
They point to Trump’s past as a thrice-married Manhattan real estate tycoon who does not regularly attend church or speak about his spiritual life.
“I'm reluctant to comment on another person's faith, but I would say it is hard to look at this president's actions and believe that they're the actions of somebody who believes in God,” said South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender who is Episcopalian. “I just don't understand how you can be as worshipful of your own self as he is and be prepared to humble yourself before God.”
And the political power of the religious right is a source of frustration for some faith leaders, such as Rev. William Barber II, an advocate for the poor who warned at a presidential candidate forum this week about the GOP’s “Christian nationalism.”
“We have this false moral religious narrative that somehow says that if you’re for tax cuts and against women’s rights and against gay people and against immigrants that somehow that’s the moral and godly thing to do,” Barber said.
But Christian leaders say they are wholly comfortable backing the president because his public policies far outweigh his personal behavior.
“It’s his polices that drive this and that serve as a major motivator for voters to overlook his flaws, the tweets or his rough edges,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “They see him speak with such passion on some of these issues.”
The Supreme Court appointments and dozens of confirmations of conservative judges at lower courts are a major motivating factor for social conservatives.
But Trump’s actions to scale back abortion rights and his blunt rhetoric on the matter is the primary animating factor for many Christian conservatives.
At his 2020 campaign launch this week, Trump made it clear that he intends to paint his rivals as extremists on the issue, saying that “virtually every top Democrat” supports “ripping babies straight from the mother's womb.”
Conservatives believe Democrats have provided them with an opening to appeal to independents on the issue, with states such as New York expanding access to late-term abortions and Democratic contenders announcing opposition to the Hyde Amendment, a 40-year-old ban on federal funding for abortions.
Of course, the left is equally energized on the issue, with activists descending on Alabama to protest the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, which passed earlier this year.
Twenty Democratic presidential contenders will attend a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Forum this weekend in South Carolina as the state legislature considers a new bill to restrict abortion rights there.
But Mallory Quigley, the spokesperson for SBA List, said Trump’s commitment to rolling back abortion rights would ensure that social conservatives, and perhaps some new voters, such as religious Hispanics, show up at the ballot box for him in November.
“The president has done everything in his power to promote pro-life policies,” Quigley said. “He’s followed through on his commitments to the pro-life movement and that’s taken enthusiasm on the ground to a new level. We’re ready to do our part to reelect him so that we can continue to see those victories.”