WASHINGTON (RNS) — As president and since, Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to blunt the impact of scandals and prosecutions by leaning into his nearly ironclad support among evangelical Christian pastors and other leaders. Some of those figures are again rallying to Trump after his arraignment Thursday (Aug. 3) on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.
The Rev. Tony Suarez, chief operation officer of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a longtime faith adviser to Trump, dismissed the new federal indictment, Trump’s second, as a distraction. Echoing GOP politicians’ summation of the charges lodged by special prosecutor Jack Smith, Suarez insisted Democrats were attempting to “disqualify Trump’s run for the Republican nomination.”
Suarez predicted the indictment would fail to stifle evangelicals’ support. “Evangelical Christians, conservatives and independents are tired of these games and ready to fight to protect our democracy and ensure a fair election in 2024 that we believe will lead to President Trump returning to the Oval Office,” he said.
Another longtime Trump faith adviser, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, told Religion News Service that he had exchanged texts with Trump after the indictment was announced and that the former president is “upbeat and optimistic.”
Jeffress, who initially declined to endorse anyone in the 2024 primary, said he is now openly supporting Trump.
“It’s doubtful that the latest indictment of President Trump will have any meaningful impact on his overwhelming popularity with evangelical voters, given the fact that previous indictments have only increased his support among Republicans — and most evangelicals vote Republican,” Jeffress said in an email. “I predict evangelical voters will continue to support President Trump because of his strong pro-life, pro-religious liberty, and pro-Israel track record.”
Jeffress added that while he considers the charges against Trump to be “serious,” he believes them to be “politically-motivated” and accused the Department of Justice of attempting to imprison President Joe Biden’s political rival.
A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted before the indictment found that 56% of white evangelicals said they would most likely support the former president, with 18% saying they would back Florida Gov. DeSantis. All other GOP candidates draw 5% or less of white evangelical support.
In the same poll, 76% of white evangelicals said they do not think the president has committed any federal crimes.
Those who analyze religion in politics also agreed that the latest charges, following those charging falsification of business records and conspiracy to retain classified documents, won’t dent his popularity among evangelicals.
Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian who worked on faith outreach for both of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, said, “The majority of white evangelicals have accepted this idea that Trump wants what they want — I’m not sure this indictment changes that.”