(RNS) — The famed political consultant James Carville coined the phrase that likely led Bill Clinton to his victory over President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Carville boiled down the sentiment of the electorate into four simple words: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Nearly 30 years later, the allure of President Donald Trump to evangelical Christians — along with Catholic and mainline Protestant voters — can similarly be summarized.
“It’s the policies, people.”
There are many rational and moral reasons to vote for Trump and his policies in 2020 as there were in November 2016, if not more. The difference between 2020 and 2016 is that Trump is running on a platform of achievements, not only promises.
Trump has protected the unborn, appointed conservative judges to the judiciary, supported Israel with abandon and has relentlessly advocated for religious freedom.
He’s also done it all on an unprecedented scale.
He has appointed 200 conservative judges, flipping the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuits. And he has nearly flipped the oft-overturned 9th Circuit.
He became the first president to ever address the March for Life, and his support for pro-life policies has extended to every part of the federal government.
He not only supported Israel, but he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized the Golan Heights and negotiated a once-in-a-generation peace deal with Israel’s Arab neighbor, the United Arab Emirates.
And, when it comes to religious freedom, he hasn’t made it part of American foreign policy but it has been at its very heart.
The administration has also implemented an unprecedented sanctions regime against serial bad actors for human rights violations. These sanctions have also targeted vicious persecutors of religious communities, including those who have persecuted evangelicals, but also the Uighurs in China, Catholics in Nicaragua and Cuba, and the Baha’is, Jews and Sunni Muslims in Iran.
The president achieved the release of Christian prisoners in countries like Turkey, India, Iran and North Korea, even sanctioning a NATO member (Turkey) until the country’s economy nearly crashed in order to achieve Andrew Brunson’s release.
All of this doesn’t even touch the president’s economic achievements before COVID-19, when his policies led to record unemployment (3.5%). He also doubled the child tax credit and even created a historic Republican coalition to support paid family leave.
The president’s economic policies were so robust that it took a once-in-a-century pandemic to blunt them, and during the pandemic, he’s managed to distribute 70 million food boxes, through many churches, to our poorest Americans through a groundbreaking program called “Farmers to Families.”
The economic foundation looks already to be providing a V-shaped recovery to several sectors in our post-shutdown economy.
You can disagree with the president’s ideas, but it’s hard to disagree with the results, a point made recently by Hugh Hewitt in The Washington Post and by well-respected Christian ethicist Wayne Grudem.
Unlike in 2016, Democrats are spending money to persuade evangelicals to vote for their candidate. But their policies remain troubling.
Recently, the party refused even to respond when thousands of pro-life Democrats advocated returning to the Clinton-era approach of keeping abortions “safe, legal and rare.”
Democrats ask evangelicals, Catholics and other religious voters to support a party led by the most pro-choice ticket in American history with an entirely intolerant platform for pro-life Americans, Democrat or Republican.
This is a dizzying strategy.
The Biden campaign is asking evangelicals to disregard the one thing they simply cannot do: their sincerely held beliefs.
Because some Democrats know their party platform offers no confidence to more than 100 million traditional Christians, they have instead assembled a blooper reel of policies in an attempt to just shame the president’s supporters.
Democrats say that Trump instituted a Muslim ban.
But, of course, he did not.
He instituted substantial travel restrictions for people coming from seven (of 45) Muslim-majority countries with widely documented challenges with terrorism and security, including the failed states of Somalia and Libya.
Democrats then claim Trump said that “there were good people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But they neglect to cite the words that followed: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists — because they should be condemned totally.”
The president’s critics say that he put children in cages.
They failed to mention that former Vice President Joe Biden’s boss, President Barack Obama, once known as the “Deporter-in-Chief,” built those “cages.” In fact, one of the most widely circulated photos of children in detention centers was taken during the Obama administration.
When Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez alleged that conditions at government facilities were unsanitary, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez demanded to see them. He was granted access by the Trump administration and said he left alarmed by the total misinformation spread by Democrats.
When Jeff Sessions briefly instituted a child separation policy, he was immediately deposed by the likes of the first daughter, the president’s evangelical advisers and the president himself.
Sessions ultimately was fired by Trump and is no longer in politics at all.
When all of that fails, the Democrats will blame Trump for today’s unemployment numbers as an attempt to obscure the fact that his economic policies led to the lowest-ever unemployment for all Americans, including women, blacks, Latinos and young people. They fail to note that Biden has advocated for a second, devastating economic shutdown. They don’t mention Biden opposed the president’s lifesaving travel ban on China.
Let me be clear: The evangelical case for Trump is not an uncritical one.
It isn’t a case to support every tweet and every single policy. It is, rather, a case of constructive criticism that is perhaps illustrated by the First Step Act.
On the advice of his evangelical advisers, Trump had become convinced that his promise to be a president for “forgotten Americans” included reforming our broken criminal justice system.
The president began to personally drive the issue as Jared Kushner was working to solidify a legislative consensus.
Kushner’s work was animated by his own well-established passion for it. In evangelicals, he had found an informed partner whose prison ministries had acquainted them with the inadequacies of our criminal justice system.
This eventually led to the president signing the First Step Act into law last year, giving former prisoners a better chance to start their lives over again. Curiously, when Kushner was attempting to build a bipartisan coalition for the bill, Sen. Kamala Harris wouldn’t return his call.
As I said in 2016, and I say now, whoever wins in 2020 will find many evangelicals, like me, ready to work together with them to help all Americans, whomever they endorsed.
But that would be easier if sincere Democrats dispensed of this nonsense that it’s immoral to choose Trump over Biden.
Instead, they should argue for their own policies.
(The Rev. Johnnie Moore has served as an informal adviser to the Trump administration. He’s president of The Congress of Christian Leaders and a noted advocate for religious freedom. He is co-author of “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa,” due out in October.)