How Evangelical Christians Rate the 2024 GOP Race for President

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ralph Reed still doesn’t know how the Faith & Freedom Coalition will handle 2024.

Reed, the founder of the conservative Christian organization, played a key role in convincing evangelicals to put aside their skepticism of Trump and support him in the 2016 general election.

He urged them to support Trump’s re-election in 2020. But the prospect of a third Trump run complicates matters, and Reed is not yet committing to endorsing the former president, should he seek the nomination again. and faces a field of other Republicans in a primary.

The group’s annual national conference this week at the Nashville resort town of Opryland is, officially, midterm election-themed. But the rally was also a soft launch for some of the candidates evangelical voters could consider in the 2024 primaries — with or without Trump’s candidacy.

For now, Reed sees the evangelical group’s role as staying neutral during the primary, like in 2012 and 2016, and offering potential 2024 candidates the opportunity to connect with Christian voters who will play. a disproportionate role in the choice of the candidate.

“We never really tried to be the religious version of party bosses in a smoke-filled room trying to figure out who the nominee should be,” Reed said. “We think the best thing to do is to provide a platform for these candidates and help them, informally, by letting them know the best way to connect and make their case to these voters and pastors. .

“After that, we let the market decide.”

The event has proven effective as a cattle call for candidates indulging conservative Christians — much like Reed befriending, which Trump first did in 2011, when he cold called Reed for advice on how to appeal to evangelical voters. Trump spoke at the conference that year, and Friday’s appearance marked his seventh at the annual event, Reed said.

“Would anyone like me to run for president?” Trump asked the crowd. Much of the audience rose to resounding applause and cheers, making it clear that their support for Trump has not diminished.

The former president, however, was not the only one whose speech was enthusiastically received at the rally.

The scene in Nashville offered potential 2024 contestants like Sens. Tim Scott (RS.C.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley get a chance to speak directly to some of the nation’s most influential evangelical activists and local leaders. Saturday evening, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to deliver a speech.

Notably absent from the roster were former Vice President Mike Pence, a conference veteran with deep ties to the evangelical Christian movement, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Both men were invited to attend. Pence instead opted to attend a roundtable with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in Cincinnati on Thursday, the same day the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill focused on the testimony from key Pence aides and his decision to certify election votes. Last year, the decision drew mockery from the Faith & Freedom crowd when Pence took the stage.

On Friday, Trump spoke at length about Pence, attacking him in front of the Republicans who are most sympathetic to him: evangelical Christians.

“Mike Pence was blessed to be awesome,” Trump said. “He had a chance, quite frankly, to be historic. Mike didn’t have the courage to act.

After an awkward pause, the audience responded with light applause.

After Trump’s remarks, Reed in an interview described Trump and Pence as dear friends of his. Reed said he was on the phone with Trump’s speechwriters “for a while” yesterday, but did not elaborate on comments he provided about how Trump should discuss Pence during of the conference.

“They took some of it,” Reed said of the advice he offered.

A spokesperson for the Faith & Freedom Coalition said Pence’s schedule does not allow him to participate this year and noted a recent event Pence hosted with the Coalition in North Carolina to engage Christian voters in the area. of Charlotte.

It also lacked past speakers and possible 2024 contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

Here at the Road to Majority conference, the crowd was very eager to hear from the ex-president. But they were also open to thinking about alternatives, like DeSantis — though several people interviewed for this story mispronounced his name as “DeSantos.”

Patrick Gebauer of Atlanta said the Republican Party could use Trump’s leadership, but “there could be so much carnage because the left hates him so much.”

“I would love to see DeSantis, I know he’s powerful. He’s not afraid to take on people,” Gebauer said.

Nashville’s Chad Bobo said the main reason he came to the conference was to hear from Trump. “I like the other speakers. One of them is Tim Scott,” he said. “But I’m still looking for the president to get the nomination in 2024.”

While speakers made it clear their immediate goal was to flip the House and Senate for Republicans in November, some talked about their vision beyond the midterm.

“Two years from now, I have a dream,” Tim Scott said in his speech, as the audience cut him off with applause. “That with the House on our side and the Senate on our side and the White House on our side, we’ll show America what leadership looks like. We’ll show America how you recover from a punch. We will show America that we, the Great Opportunity Party, believe in the future of this nation, because we believe in the freedom of you, the individual, in America.

The South Carolina senator captivated the audience. Avoiding a teleprompter like a seasoned church pastor, Scott oscillated between scripture references, stories about his life, jokes and musings on the state of America.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina before joining Trump’s cabinet, told the audience that they “have no higher calling as a people” than to renew the hope of the world in America. She signaled that she wanted to be the one to help do it.

“And with you, and with trust in God, I pledge to answer that call and inspire our country again,” Haley said.

And Rick Scott, who chairs the Republican National Senate Committee, touted his “Plan to Save America,” a policy platform he released earlier this year. Scott says the plan — seen by national political operatives as a sign of the former Florida governor’s presidential ambitions — provides an answer to the question of what Republicans will do if they regain control in Washington.

He drew a standing ovation and cheers during his speech when he delivered one of his platform positions: “Men are men, women are women and unborn babies are babies. “

While the vast majority of speakers remain outspoken Trump supporters, there were still nods to party leaders who dared to challenge Trump’s bogus claims of a stolen election.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s former education secretary who resigned in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack — and has since criticized Trump — spoke onstage shortly before the former president , and she hosted a one-hour book signing by the entrance to the main convention hall. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who has come under fire from some Republicans for saying Trump lost the 2020 election, was also a guest speaker.

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, focused her remarks on the midterms, shouting at star Republicans like DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, but never mentioned Trump.

“Let’s take back the White House in 2024,” McDaniel said as he closed his speech. The RNC’s statutes require it to remain neutral in the primaries.

Sue Trombino, president and founder of Women Impacting the Nation, a Christian group, said it was still too early to decide on a candidate.

“I tell people all the time, and I tell them, ‘Stop it. Stop talking about 2024. You have four and a half months so save this Republic. Why are you talking about 2024? Get 2022 right,’ Trombino said “If we win in 2022, we can find out in 2024. And figure out if it should be Trump or DeSantis.”

First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, who will address the conference Saturday on the importance of Christians being politically active, said he supports and will continue to support Trump. But he predicts that 2024 will look a lot more like 2016.

“I think evangelicals are still happy with their vote in 2016 and 2020,” Jeffress said. “Having said that, I think 2024 will be a lot like 2016 in that I think there will be a lot of contenders and evangelicals will be spread out among a lot of them.

“I guess if Trump runs, he will be the choice of many, and many will choose others initially,” Jeffress continued. “But if he runs, I think he wins the nomination and the presidency.”

Barry F. Howard