Many in the Republican Party leadership are trying to understand the phenomenon of Donald Trump. And the question on the minds of many of them is what is his appeal to conservatives, particularly the social conservative, religious-right Republicans? I admit that I have no scientific polls and no Trump-voter psychological profiles upon which to base my thoughts, but here are five things I’ve observed.
The first is nothing really surprising. Many conservative Republicans are extremely angry with the Republican Party. I understand that. Even though many and perhaps a majority of those in that camp are supporting Carson, Cruz, or Rubio, the fact is that a significant enough percentage of them support Trump—and that is making a difference.
A second, related factor is that a number of conservatives simply don’t want anyone connected at all with Congress or Washington politics. Period. They no longer trust anyone associated with Washington. I think that’s the baby-and-the-bathwater thinking, but I understand it.
Third, I think some social conservatives have despaired of “values candidates” actually doing anything in support of their values. They have not lost their concern for the social values that drove them in the past to reluctantly support the Doles, McCain, and Romneys, and the do-nothing-but-make-excuses-for-inaction social conservatives who have been elected to Congress, but they have decided that supporting such conservatives isn’t going to result in those values being reflected in public policy.
So, at this point, I think some social conservatives see no reason to continue supporting candidates who run on those values simply because they espouse those values. They believe history has shown them it won’t matter, so they are voting for someone who talks tough on the other issues they care about. I don’t agree that social values don’t matter, but I understand how some have reached that conclusion.
What we see in the foregoing points is that the moderate, entrenched Republican leadership has driven a number of conservatives to Mr. Trump, which leads to my fourth observation—some conservative Trump supporters are sending a message.
Conservative Republicans have often spoken of not supporting a moderate Republican, supporting a moderate Republican presidential nominee, or voting for another party’s candidate, like the Constitution Party. But perhaps some of the conservatives supporting Trump won’t send the “message” they want to send to the moderate Republican leadership. After all, if they leave the party or vote for a third- party candidate, then the moderate wing of the Party will get its candidate and, perhaps for moderates, that is more important than actually winning the presidency. So, perhaps conservatives supporting Trump are making sure the moderate Republican leadership doesn’t get the nominee it wants and, for them, that message is a stronger message than if they left the party.
A fifth thing driving some of the conservative Republicans to Trump is what I call the “Obama phenomenon.” In 2008 Americans in large numbers knew things were wrong in America and looked at the fact that we were led by a Republican president. Consequently, they were looking for someone to give them hope that things could change.
Similarly, I think the support of some for Trump is reactionary in nature, fed by anger and frustration with Congress and the moderate Republican Party leadership. And, like Obama was for many fearful, angry Americans in 2008, Trump represents hope for change for these Republicans.
In conclusion, my concern in this election, as with any election, is that emotions not drive our decisions, particularly anger. I know from personal experience that anger rarely produces good results.
But beyond personal experience, I also know that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). While we usually apply that verse only to our personal lives, the principle is not so limited. God desires righteousness in civil government, and decisions in the governmental realm propelled by anger will not achieve that righteousness.
As we head to election day, my prayer is that fear, frustration, and blind hope for change will not prevent voters from examining the values, policies, and character of all those who seek our support and then casting a vote that aligns with those things.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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