Since the late ’70s, some of the most reliable voters for Republican candidates have been Christians who take the Bible literally — conservative Christians, we’ll call them.
About 65 percent vote Republican now, and they typically turn out in large numbers for elections, said Andrew Lewis, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Will they do so this year, when the Republican standard-bearer is Donald Trump, a not particularly religious person whose support for the pro-life movement has been lukewarm at best?
The short answer is yes, said Lewis, who studies religion and politics and who has looked at the polling data.
Traditional party identification and negative views of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will drive many to vote for the Republican candidate, no matter who he is, he said.
“I think we will see increasing numbers of people voting for Trump, even though they don’t like him,” he said.
That’s also the consensus of the conservative Christians contacted for this story. Trump might not be their first choice, but he’s better than the alternative.
Gary Moore, the longtime judge-executive of Boone County and a member of Florence Baptist Church at Mount Zion, said he would have preferred to vote for other Republican candidates, but “based on the options, it was not a tough decision (to support Trump).”
Social issues used to preoccupy conservative Christian voters, he said, but this year, voters are looking more at fiscal and economic policy.
“I think that conservative Christians are willing to put those social issues aside,” he added.
Trump is a different kind of Republican candidate, agreed Phil Burress, president of Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values, a conservative Christian interest group. But Trump’s not Clinton, whose negatives among conservative Christians are “through the roof,” Burress said.
“The fact that she lies repeatedly has really got people upset,” he added. “Evangelicals do not care for liars.”
His organization recently surveyed its own supporters and commissioned a survey of Ohio evangelicals, he said, both of which showed about 70 percent expected to vote for Trump.
He thinks he will probably vote for Trump, but he’ll know more after June 21, when he and 700 other pro-life, pro-family leaders nationwide will meet with the candidate to hear his views.
A major motivator for Trump among conservative Christians is the fact that there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, said Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Alex Triantafilou.
A member of Holy Trinity St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Springfield Township and a conservative Christian, he also plans to support Trump. He predicted more conservative Christians would turn out to vote for Trump than did for Mitt Romney four years ago.
Because of a vacancy on the Supreme Court, he said, “that community will be strongly in the Trump camp, regardless of the headline-making remarks that may come out of Trump’s mouth.”
Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in February left the court with just eight members. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to replace him, but the Republican-controlled Senate has declined to hold hearings on the nominee until after the election.
Scalia was the “absolute favorite” justice of Lebanon resident Lori Viars, a member of Countryside Community Church in Lebanon. His death leaves conservative Christians in a precarious position on issues such as abortion, she said.
If Trump were to agree to nominate someone like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of his primary opponents, to the court, she said, “that would get a lot of conservative Christians revved up about him.”
She’s also curious to see whom Trump picks as his vice presidential candidate. “His background has not been 100 percent conservative, so he needs to beef that up with a very conservative running mate,” she said.
His choice will make a big difference as to whether conservative Christians will “reluctantly vote for him or will work for him,” she said.
She characterized her own support for Trump, at this point in the race, as moderate. “Trump is probably the only thing I’m moderate on,” she added.
Nationally, Lewis said, we’ve seen some opposition to Trump from conservative Christian leaders, most prominently Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
In a New York Times op-ed, he said Trump’s campaign had “cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” In a tweeted reply, Trump called Moore a “nasty guy with no heart.”
Among conservative Christians, Lewis said, the strongest “never Trump” voters are Mormons, who don’t see him as the kind of person who should be in leadership. Some of them may have taken their cues from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon who has refused to endorse Trump.
If dissatisfaction with Trump translates into some conservative Christians staying home and not voting in November, that could be a problem for the Republicans, especially in a swing state like Ohio, Lewis said.
“Even a few points of turnout loss in a few states could be really disastrous,” he added.