Will the evangelical community support Trump’s 2024 campaign?

This weekend, former President Trump held his first campaign rallies since announcing he was running again. When Trump first ran for president, much of the evangelical community backed him. William Brangham spoke with Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition to see if that support remains.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    This weekend, former President Donald Trump held his first campaign rallies since announcing he was running for office again.

    Mr. Trump visited New Hampshire and South Carolina, trying to shore up support as he waits to see if any other Republicans will stand up to challenge him.

    William Brangham reports on how the former president is doing among one key Republican constituency.

  • William Brangham:

    Amna, when Donald Trump first ran for president, to the surprise of many, much of the Christian evangelical community supported him. And after his first term, where he delivered on several key issues for that community, most notably putting three conservatives on the Supreme Court, the former president is once again counting on their support this time.

    But will he get it?

    To help answer that, I'm joined by Ralph Reed, a longtime evangelical political activist and leader. He is the president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

    Ralph Reed, good to have you on the "NewsHour."

    How is former President Trump doing amongst the evangelical community today?

  • Ralph Reed, Republican Strategist:

    Well, look, I think there's a very deep reservoir of affection and appreciation for President Trump in the faith community.

    You mentioned the conservative Supreme Court justices. We achieved a half-century aspiration in the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case. We now have an opportunity. It's not going to be without some fraught political Sturm und Drang, but we have an opportunity to protect innocent human life in the United States again, for the first time in 50 years at the state level.

    He also was the most pro-Israel president in American history, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So there's a great deal of affection for this president.

    And I'm not really in the prediction business, but, to the surprise of almost everyone, he won a plurality of this vote in 2016. And I would expect him to do well again. But, as in 2016, this will be a very competitive primary. And there will be other candidates, whether it's Mike Pompeo, or Mike Pence, or Nikki Haley, if Ron DeSantis were to get in, many others, and they understand what Donald Trump understands, which is, there's no path to this nomination without winning a hefty and healthy plurality of this vote.

    So, no one should assume it's spoken for, and no should assume that their appeal is foreclosed.

  • William Brangham:

    But why do you think he isn't the shoo-in for the candidacy? I mean, he's the only one who has declared that he's running.

    And, as you said, I get it that he was a longshot initially and seemed like an ill fit, but he has delivered in all the ways that you described. So why isn't he the de facto nominee amongst evangelicals?

  • Ralph Reed:

    I think it's really very simple.

    We're in very much unchartered territory. I mean, this is the first time that a former president has sought his party's nomination for president after leaving the White House since Teddy Roosevelt did it in 1912. It's the first time that a former president was a nominal front-runner with a very real chance of winning that nomination since Grover Cleveland in 1892.

    So, this is not without precedent in American history, but it is highly unusual for a former president to reenter the arena and seek that nomination. And I think I view this as a positive thing, not a negative commentary on the president. There's great affection for President Trump.

    But there is such an embarrassment of riches. There is — in part because of him, there is such a deep bench. I mean, let's remember, three of the most compelling candidates served in his Cabinet. So this is not a bad thing. And there's nothing wrong with a healthy primary.

    And from our standpoint, we think the more candidates who go after these voters, the better off we will be, as long as we can unify when it's over.

  • William Brangham:

    Certainly, that is the essence of our democratic process.

    What do you make of the argument that I have heard some of the evangelical community make, which is, yes, the former president delivered for us in many ways, but he is — also comes with a good deal of baggage? There are swirling investigations. The left certainly voted him out the last time. He still is focused on the past election and his lies about what happened there, and that it is time to move on.

    Do you think that that is a real sentiment in the evangelical community?

  • Ralph Reed:

    I think that sentiment is there, and that argument is going to be made.

    And then I think the president and his supporters will be able to make their argument, which is — Lindsey Graham said this weekend in introducing him in South Carolina, if you think you're going to be able to get Trump policies without the personality and person of Trump, you misunderstand the strength and the fortitude that was behind those policies.

    And I certainly witnessed that firsthand as a member of the faith advisory group when the president was in the White House. There was a toughness there that I won't say I hadn't seen in other candidates, but it was definitely unusual. So that's what this debate is going to be about. And that's what primaries are for.

    And, again, I think this will be a very healthy process. And the president is going to get a chance to make his case. I can assure you, he is going to get a very fair hearing from voters of faith. But they're also going to want to kick the tires and look at some other people.

    And we really view our role in this as a matchmaker, not a kingmaker. We want to make sure all the voters get a chance to meet all the candidates and they all get to make their best case. We think that — everybody wins if that's what happens.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, in just the few seconds we have left, what about a former Vice President Mike Pence?

    He seems most clearly aligned with the evangelical community and its values and its intentions and desires. Why do you think he is not more a leading candidate?

  • Ralph Reed:

    Well, I wouldn't discount him at all. I think he is somebody who aligns very well with the values, the beliefs and the burdens on the hearts of millions of people of faith in this country.

    I had the great privilege of working with him very closely when he was vice president. He's a good friend. And I don't know of anybody in my career, frankly, who's done a better job of connecting and articulating the views and values of this constituency than Mike Pence.

  • William Brangham:

    All right.


  • Ralph Reed:

    So, I don't count him out. I think he's a sleeper in this race.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, thank you so much.

  • Ralph Reed:

    Thank you.

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