Thursday, October 22, 2015

Historian John Turner Responds to Historian Thomas Kidd's Donald Trump Piece

Yesterday we did a post on Baylor historian Thomas Kidd's call for evangelicals to abandon the Donald Trump candidacy and leave the Republican Party if Trump is the eventual nominee.

Today John Turner, Kidd's friend, fellow George Marsden student at Notre Dame, religion professor at George Mason University, and co-blogger at The Anxious Bench, responded.  I am guessing that Turner has as much distaste for Trump as Kidd, but that was not the point of his post.  Turner is addressing two issues.  First, whether or not Trump has a legitimate shot at the nomination.  Second, whether or not evangelicals would ever abandon the Republican Party.

Here is a taste:

My co-blogger Thomas Kidd suggests that church-going evangelicals and a group he calls “paleo-evangelicals” (already disaffected with the Republican Party) should desert the Republicans should Donald Trump capture the GOP nomination.
I am in the camp of those who consider that outcome an improbability in two respects. First, despite widespread dissatisfaction with “establishment” politicians, Republicans will probably not nominate a recent convert. Evangelical voters in Iowa will probably deny Trump a victory in that state’s caucuses. The field will narrow considerably by January, and when it is Trump versus one or two credible candidates, the more mainstream Republican candidate will probably prevail. Of course, there is no good reason to misidentify historians for good political prognosticators.
And then this:
Politics is as much a habit as a matter of thoughtful deliberation. Evangelicals are used to voting for Republican presidential candidates, regardless of whom the party nominates. John McCain and Mitt Romney? No problem. If the Republican Party somehow nominated Donald Trump for president, he would promise to appoint pro-life judges and argue that Hillary Clinton (no suspense there) would appoint judges that would trample on the religious freedom of Christians. Perhaps the Republicans would get 75 percent instead of 80 percent of evangelical votes (admittedly, the difference could be significant), and perhaps a percentage of evangelicals would stay home. But I suspect at least three-quarters would vote for Trump.
Major political realignments in U.S. History are rare. When African Americans began voting for the Democratic Party (outside of the South) beginning with the New Deal, they did so not only because Republican politicians ignored their concerns but because Democratic politicians competed for their votes. When white southerners in turn left the Democratic Party, they did so in the midst of a full-court Republican press. In our two-party system, options are limited. Conservative evangelicals who care deeply about abortion and religious liberty might feel alienated from the Republican Party, but the other party doesn’t think it needs their votes and doesn’t want them.

Turner has been making this argument about the staying power of the evangelical-GOP alliance for a long time.  And I agree with him. I am not a pollster or a political scientist, but I do have a foot in the politically-charged (sadly) world of American evangelicalism.  I spend a lot of time with evangelical Christians and from where I sit the alliance between the GOP and evangelicals is as strong as it has ever been.

I just don't see how Trump will last through November 2016.  I also don't see how any of the Christian Right candidates can seriously win the nomination if the GOP expects to beat Hillary in November 2016.  If Ted Cruz wins the nomination, moderate Republicans will stay home on election day just like many evangelicals did in 2012. 

Perhaps we underestimate the degree to which the Republican Party is fractured right now.  The current debate over the Speaker of the House is an obvious example of this. This fracturing will be a major theme in the work of future political historians studying our era.  I just don't see how the GOP can overcome their differences, come together, and support a candidate for president.  

Can a GOP candidate come along and bridge this divide between moderate republicans and the Christian Tea Party crowd?  I doubt it. But until one does, Democrats will continue to win presidential elections.  In my opinion, the GOP's best bets on this front are Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and perhaps Carly Fiorina. 

One more thought.  There is one way that the GOP could win in November 2016.  The Republican Party's hatred for Hillary Clinton is so strong that the factions within the party just must come together to defeat a common enemy.