Pastors stand firm as Trump’s U.S. evangelical base weakens

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As President Donald Trump bowed his head in the Oval Office earlier this month, Texas Southern Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress and other U.S. religious leaders laid their hands on Trump’s back and prayed for Hurricane Harvey’s victims.

With TV cameras and reporters watching, the scene was a powerful reminder of one of Trump’s most reliable and improbable political assets – his close ties with conservative Christians.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows, however, that Trump’s popularity among white evangelicals has weakened, suggesting his grassroots support may not be as unconditional as religious leaders’ public displays of allegiance would suggest.

That may pose a problem for Trump and his allies as the 2018 midterm congressional election season nears. Trump’s strong links to conservative Christians played a key part in his stunning victory in the 2016 presidential election.

Though disenchanted evangelicals were unlikely to switch their votes to Democrats, they could stay home next year when U.S. voters elect senators and representatives.

“When your base is starting to even slowly move away from you, that should be a sign of concern,” said Justin Vaughn, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State University in Idaho, a state Trump won handily last year.

In a country that is more religious than most other western democracies and where a president’s spiritual life is closely examined, the twice-divorced New York billionaire socialite, who has attended church just twice since his Jan. 20 inauguration, is an unlikely torchbearer for conservative Christians.

He has labored to build and preserve this unlikely alliance, embracing social issues, such as commitment to anti-abortion and religious liberty policies, and picking staunch conservative Neil Gorsuch, for the Supreme Court.

Trump also mentions God far more often in public remarks than his two predecessors, a Reuters review showed.(Graphic:

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