Democratic candidates for president try to appeal to an ideological audience that pays attention to early campaigns, but will that hurt the candidates in the longer term?
Three days after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, dropped out of the Republican presidential primary following a resounding defeat in Indiana, WORLD asked several dozen evangelical insiders to share their thoughts on billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s seemingly clear path to the GOP nomination.
The results: They’re split down the middle, but two-thirds of the “never Trump” participants remain committed to that position.
Seventy-seven participants responded to our 10th online survey about the 2016 presidential contests, and while the questionnaire isn’t scientific or representative of all evangelicals, it offers a glimpse into what some influential Christians think about the race for the White House.
About half of the latest survey’s respondents (51 percent) said they would never vote for Trump “no matter what.” The other half could be open to voting for Trump depending on certain conditions, chiefly the candidate’s choice of a Supreme Court nominee or a vice presidential running mate.
Forty-seven percent said they would consider voting for Trump if he pledged to appoint a strong pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, and 36 percent said a vice presidential pick could persuade them to vote for the candidate.
(Some write-in suggestions for a vice presidential candidate showed signs of voter apathy: Kanye West, Gary Busey, and Satan, because then Trump would be “honest in branding.” Others gave serious recommendations, but no one candidate emerged as a choice of the majority.)
Respondents also identified the top three issues they consider when choosing a candidate: abortion, religious freedom in the United States, and Supreme Court nominations.
Notably, all three issues have a direct relation to the Supreme Court makeup, and they are not among the top issues Trump supporters often cite: the economy and immigration.
What about a third-party candidate? When asked if they would support a third-party candidate in a Clinton/Trump contest, 46 percent of respondents said, “Yes, on principle, even if the candidate had no chance to win.” Nearly 29 percent said, “Yes, but only if the candidate had a chance to win.” Twenty-one percent said they would vote for Trump, and 1 percent said they would vote for Clinton. Those numbers were close to survey results on the same question in mid-March.
Though some conservative pundits and at least one conservative lawmaker, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., have pushed for a third-party option, no organized effort to mount such a long-shot bid has emerged yet in public. Still, the GOP faces an urgent task to push Republican voters dissatisfied with Trump to turn out and vote in other contests that will determine whether Congress remains in GOP hands.
For survey participants who identified as a “never Trump person,” one data point was clear: The majority of them remain committed to that position, even if Trump is the presumptive nominee. Fifty-seven out of 77 respondents identified as “never Trump,” and 68 percent of those said that means never “no matter what.”
(Another 18 percent said they were “never Trump” only during the primary, and 14 percent said they were never Trump “as long as he maintains his current positions/behavior.”)
The other clear point: The never-means-never Trump opponents are passionate in their objections, and many share a common concern: They don’t trust the candidate.
When WORLD invited participants to elaborate on the record about whether a Trump pledge of a pro-life Supreme Court pick could convince them to vote for the candidate, 16 responded. Only one said he would vote for Trump.
Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church near San Diego and an active player in conservative politics, said he was adamantly opposed to Trump in the primary, but had always said he would vote for him if he became the nominee: “And I will.” Garlow said Supreme Court picks are “THE single most important issue.”
The other 15 respondents unanimously said they wouldn’t trust Trump to keep a pledge.
Karen Swallow Prior is an English professor at Liberty University, where President Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump for the GOP nomination in January. Prior said a Trump pledge on a Supreme Court pick wouldn’t persuade her to vote for Trump: “I haven’t seen any reason to believe any promises he makes.”
Luke Macias, a conservative political consultant in Texas, answered: “The question assumes you can take Trump at his word. The assumption requires naïveté.”
Will Trump make an effort to reach evangelicals in the coming months? Apparently not all of them. After Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention publicly criticized Trump, the candidate tweeted Moore was “a nasty guy with no heart.”
Moore agreed. “I am a nasty guy with no heart,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “Which is why I need forgiveness of sins and redemption through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Listen to WORLD Radio’s Kent Covington discuss this month’s survey with WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky.
WORLD’s survey of evangelical leaders and insiders
The complete results from the May 11 survey, which received responses from 77 survey participants.
1. If you’re a “never Trump” person, what does that mean?
Never Trump no matter what, 50.6%, 39
Never Trump only during the primary, 13.0%, 10
Never Trump as long as he maintains his current positions/behavior, 10.4%, 8
Skipped question, 26.0%, 20
2. Is there a vice presidential pick that would make you vote for Donald Trump?
Yes, 36.4%, 28
No, 57.1%, 44
Skipped question, 6.5%, 5
3. Who should Trump pick as his vice presidential running mate?
Marco Rubio, 12.1%, 9.3
Don’t care/doesn’t matter, 11.7%, 9.0
Ted Cruz, 8.9%, 6.8
Newt Gingrich, 5.8%, 4.5
Nikki Haley, 3.0%, 2.3
Bernie Sanders, 2.6%, 2.0
Susana Martinez, 2.2%, 1.7
Ben Sasse, 1.9%, 1.5
Chris Christie, 1.7%, 1.3
Ken Blackwell, 1.3%, 1.0
Bozo the Clown, 1.3%, 1.0
Gary Busey, 1.3%, 1.0
Caligula, 1.3%, 1.0
Hillary Clinton, 1.3%, 1.0
Governor or Congress member from a swing state, 1.3%, 1.0
John Kasich, 1.3%, 1.0
Russell Moore, 1.3%, 1.0
Sarah Palin, 1.3%, 1.0
Rick Perry, 1.3%, 1.0
Condoleezza Rice, 1.3%, 1.0
Paul Ryan, 1.3%, 1.0
Satan, 1.3%, 1.0
Allen West, 1.3%, 1.0
Kanye West, 1.3%, 1.0
Scott Walker, 1.1%, 0.8
Carly Fiorina, 0.4%, 0.3
Rudy Giuliani, 0.4%, 0.3
Skipped question, 28.6%, 22
4. If Trump pledged to nominate a strong pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, would you consider voting for him?
Yes, 46.8%, 36
No, 50.6%, 39
Skipped question, 2.6%, 2
5. Since Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the presumptive nominees of the major parties, would you support a conservative third-party challenger?
Yes, on principle, even if the candidate had no chance to win, 45.5%, 35
Yes, but only if the candidate had a chance to win, 28.6%, 22
No, I would vote for Trump, 20.8%, 16
No, I would vote for Clinton, 1.3%, 1
Skipped question, 3.9%, 3
6. What are the top three issues you will consider when selecting a candidate? (Please check only three.)
Abortion, 57.1%, 44
Religious freedom (domestic), 55.8%, 43
Supreme Court nominations, 49.4%, 38
National security/terrorism, 28.6%, 22
Economy/jobs, 19.5%, 15
Foreign policy, 15.6%, 12
Marriage and family issues, 15.6%, 12
Immigration, 9.1%, 7
Federal debt/deficit, 6.5%, 5
Poverty, 5.2%, 4
Religious freedom (international), 5.2%, 4
Candidate civility, 3.9%, 3
Healthcare/Affordable Care Act, 2.6%, 2
Race relations, 1.3%, 1
Taxes, 1.3%, 1
Crime, 0.0%, 0
Education, 0.0%, 0
Environment/pollution, 0.0%, 0
Skipped question, 6.5%, 5