Members Only | January 20, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

When Trump accused white evangelical Protestant leaders of disloyalty, it wasn’t a sign of division between them

It was an order.

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In politics, if you’re looking for something, you’ll find it.

Washington’s newsspeakers and opiniontalkers have been searching, since last year’s congressional elections, for evidence underscoring the suspicion that, for the Republican Party and the criminal former president, the thrill is gone.

Specifically, that Trump’s relationship with white evangelical Protestants, the hardest of his hardcore supporters, is soft. The occasion was his appearance Monday on Real America’s Voice. The evidence was his mewling about white evangelical Protestant leaders, who have been withholding support, he said, for his third campaign.

Pastor Robert Jeffress said “evangelicals would ultimately coalesce around him as the GOP nominee for 2024 and I would happily and enthusiastically support him.” Jeffress hoped, however, that Trump “doesn’t think of me as being disloyal for not volunteering a primary endorsement he has not requested from me.”

“It’s a sign of disloyalty,” Trump told the host, David Brody. “There’s great disloyalty in the world of politics and that’s a sign of disloyalty.” 

If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. For Vanity Fair’s Caleb Ecarma, Trump’s deathless remonstrations suggested that “several high-profile evangelical leaders and activists have signaled that they want a new standard-bearer to lead the Republican Party into 2024.”

No. Yeah, no.

Get in line
It might not be what you’re looking for. 

Monday’s complaint has been taken to mean there’s a growing divide between white evangelical Protestants who labored to bring down Roe and the president who made that gothic dream come true.

But just as possible, Trump’s remarks could be a warning. 

The interview brought up Robert Jeffress, the Texas pastor whose sermon at Trump’s inauguration focused on “When God Chooses a Leader.” According to the Religion News Service, Jeffress will endorse Trump only if he wins the forthcoming Republican primary race.

“That’s a sign of disloyalty,” Trump said.

Thing is, he never asked for it. 


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Jeffress said “evangelicals would ultimately coalesce around him as the GOP nominee for 2024 and I would happily and enthusiastically support him.” He hoped Trump “doesn’t think of me as being disloyal for not volunteering a primary endorsement he has not requested from me.”

In that hope is a recognition. 

Recognition of authority.

If you’re looking for division between Trump and white evangelical Protestants, you’ll find it. But what you’ve really found is a Republican leader ordering the hardest of his hardcore supporters to get in line.

There can be only one
The idea, popular in Washington, that the thrill is gone has been made possible by Ron DeSantis’s inborn talent for getting attention from the rightwing media apparatus without drawing Donald Trump’s ire. 

Businessweek’s Josh Green summed up “the DeSantis formula”: “create a cultural imbroglio that outrages liberals and that is Trump-adjacent but features himself, not Trump, in the role of alpha male.”

The DeSantis formula is giving Republicans, who desire victory more than they desire owning the libs, the impression that the Florida governor is an option. The problem? The option is a media fiction.

If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. 

But it might not be what you’re looking for. 

Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland whose name comes up sometimes in conversations about the 2024 presidential election, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that sure, DeSantis is great – when he’s on Fox.

Would DeSantis be good at “reaching out to the middle?” Tapper asked.


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“He hasn’t done it so far,” Hogan said. “He’s done a good job of getting on Fox News and he’s capturing a lot of attention. … He’s doing well with the base, but he’s going to have to figure out a way, if he wants to have a political future beyond Florida, to appeal to a broader audience.”

Republicans who desire victory more than owning the libs appear to be looking for options. They have searched and found Ron DeSantis. But DeSantis might not be what they’re looking for, because they are looking for an alternate alpha male. Great, there’s just one problem.

There are no alternates. 

There can be only one alpha male.

“Old-standby rationalizations”
For Republicans who desire victory more than owning the libs, the midterms demonstrated conclusively the liabilities of Donald Trump. These Republicans tend to be older, more educated and richer.

But the rest of the party never got that memo, wrote Alex Theodoridis, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

His new poll shows the GOP’s floor of less affluent and white working class voters has yet “to fully receive the post-2022-midterms memo about quitting Trump and his election denialism, and seeing him and his ilk as an albatross fettered to the Party’s electoral fortunes.”

Theodoridis said only 10 percent “blame Trump for the party’s lackluster midterm.” They cited the “old-standby rationalizations,” such as media bias (30 percent) and voter fraud (21 percent).

Would things be better if Trump bowed out, as some Republicans would seem to believe in their search for an alternate alpha male? 

Maybe, Theodoridis said, but most Republicans still don’t think so. Sixty percent of them “think it would be better” for the Democrats, though.

Still in the grips
If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. 

But it might not be what you’re looking for. 

Theodoridis found that:

• DeSantis has made up ground, “but Trump still gets most first-choice votes and is among the top three choices for almost two-thirds. Nobody else appears to draw meaningful support.”

• Two years after the J6 insurrection, Theodoridis’s poll shows a Republican electorate that’s still “in the grips of the Big Lie and intent on minimizing the seriousness” of it.

• Only a quarter are willing to “recognize the legitimacy of Biden’s election.” That’s unchanged since before the midterms.

• “The vast majority continue to characterize the events of January 6, 2021 as a ‘protest’ and those involved as ‘protesters.’”

• Only 13 percent blame Trump for insurrection, with most choosing to blame the Capitol Police, the Democratic Party or Antifa” for it.

• Fewer than one in five believe Trump should be charged for inciting J6, a proportion unchanged since pre-midterms.

What you’ll find is Trump
The newsspeakers and opiniontalkers have been searching, since last year’s midterms, for evidence underscoring the suspicion that, for the Republican Party and the criminal former president, the thrill is gone.

Thrill has nothing to do with it. 

Trump commands a vast Republican audience. They are in thrall to the party’’s alpha male, despite some longing for an alternate in DeSantis.

He has the authority to order white evangelical Protestant leaders, who are the most indebted to him, to get off the fence. You’re going to support me and you’re going to like it, Trump said, basically.

If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. 

But what you’ll most likely find is Donald Trump.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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