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Trump’s white evangelical strategy backfires in Virginia

2017 Faith and Freedom Coalition Voter Guide for Virginia

Since taking office, Donald Trump has done everything in his power to win the hearts and minds of white evangelicals, and they in turn have become his staunchest supporters. In Virginia Tuesday, Ed Gillespie and his fellow Republicans discovered the perils of this strategy.

Gillespie campaigned according to the Trump playbook, hitting the issues of abortion and immigration hard. And he had Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition (successor to Reed’s Christian Coalition) littering the churches with their voter guides.

And yes, white evangelicals turned out in big numbers. The problem was, there weren’t enough of them. And the other side was loaded for bear.

Four years ago, state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a darling of social conservatives, won 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in losing to Democrat Terry McAulliffe by 2.6 percentage points. Gillespie did almost as well, winning 79 percent of white evangelicals — and lost by nine points to Democrat Ralph Northam.

For all the talk of shrinking numbers of white evangelicals, their proportion of the turnout was almost identical — 27 percent in 2013 and 26 percent in 2017.

What accounts for Northam’s victory — and the anti-GOP tsunami across the state — is the bigger Democratic vote in the rest of the population — 67 percent in 2017 versus 61 percent in 2013.

It’s also worth noting that Northam did 26 percent better than McAuliffe in the populous D.C. suburbs, 69-30 versus 62-33. Tuesday night, Jerry Falwell, Jr., standard-bearer of Trumpian evangelicalism in the Commonwealth, emitted:

Conflicted, bud? I’m pretty sure the federal employees in Northern Virginia knew exactly what they were doing.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • It was a rout. Dems winning the three state wide offices was great. But the most satisfying was Bob Marshall’s loss to Danica Roem. Marshall ran on hate, and his self appointed claim that he is “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe.” Roem is a trans woman who ran on transportation and other substantive issues. Marshall even refused to debate her.

    After 26 years, Marshall is gone from a fairly conservative district. People are tired of hate.

  • Watching the guy who wrote the Trans Bathroom Bill lose to a trans woman is practically karmic payback.

  • That misses another important category: 3) Religious but not j3rks about it.

    What fundamentalists generally fail to recognize is that their views are not the sole representation of religious belief. There are many who choose not to define their belief by prejudice and discrimination. We see plenty of people here who don’t equate their belief with hate.

  • You make a good point. It is a lot more complicated. I am sure there are prejudicial people in the not religious categories too.

  • The best win in Virginia was the election of Danica Roem, a transgender candidate over the long-time incumbent Bob Marshal, an Evangelical Christian and self-proclaimed “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe”. Karma baby. Karma.

  • Not just Roem: In the Virginia House of Delegate races, horrifically racist mailers from Republicans attacked two Latina candidates, Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, but Ayala and Guzman made history as its first Latina members as well. In Washington state, Manka Dhingra flipped not just a seat but the entire state Senate from red to blue. One of two state House special election wins in Georgia saw Deborah Gonzalez elected. Minneapolis, Minnesota, elected the first openly transgender woman of color to public office in the United States—Andrea Jenkins will serve on the city council. Hoboken, New Jersey, elected its first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla, despite a racist flyer linking him to terrorism. New Jersey also elected Vin Gopal as its first Indian-American state senator. Charlotte, North Carolina, elected Democrat Vi Lyles, who will be the city’s first an African-American woman as mayor. St. Paul, Minnesota, elected Melvin Carter III as its first African-American mayor. Helena, Montana, will also have a new black mayor. Wilmot Collins was a refugee from Liberia more than 20 years ago, and was part of a “progressive ticket” that elected two new members to the city commission.

  • It is both telling and frightening that Falwell Jr. wants to disenfranchise anti-Trump voters. Why do Trump supporters like him hate freedom so much?

  • No problemo…God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) will soon put an end to and replace ALL human governments (Daniel 2:44), so we humans won’t have to worry about ALL these problems and nuclear threats on earth for much longer!! Phewwwww! ????☝️

    God’s government will then start its peaceful loving and just rule over ALL meek mankind on earth, after putting an end to ALL wicked ones on earth, including terrorists (Isaiah 11:1-5)! Jesus, the son of God and Messiah (Matthew 3:16,17), as well as King (Isaiah 9:6,7) of his Father’s government, will accomplish that!!

    That government will also put an end to all wars, weapons (Micah 4:3, 4), as well as all hate, injustice, prejudice and nationalism, such divisive factors of mankind today! Enough is enough!

    But that’s not all! It will literally put an end to ALL sickness, disease, infirmity, and even death (as was previewed by the miracles Jesus performed when on earth), of all meek humans on earth!

    The entire human family will finally enjoy the “real life” that God meant for us to have since he first made us (Adam and Eve) until the end of time, on a paradise earth! What human or human government could actually provide ALL of these things????