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Are (white) evangelicals backing away from Donald Trump? You might think that if you read this headline at Semafor:

The article is mostly a short list of prominent white evangelicals who appear to be done with Trump. They’re fed up with his fixation on the 2020 elections and they’re disturbed by his more recent meetings with white nationalists (Nicholas Fuentes) and antisemites (Kanye West) and reporter Shelby Talcott writes that “prominent evangelicals are beginning to shy away from supporting former President Donald Trump’s third bid for office.”

“Evangelicals, conservatives and freedom-loving Americans … the common question is: Who can win in 2024?” Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, told Semafor. “And I believe that’s Trump’s highest hurdle.”

Vander Plaats, who co-chaired Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2016, said he’d had many conversations with conservatives who “really like the former president” but want to move forward with “a vision for the future versus a complaint or critique about the past.”

Some Evangelical leaders are also tiring of the former president’s obsession with trying to somehow overturn the previous election and his ever-growing list of personal scandals and inflammatory statements.

The article also cites hate group leader Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, David Lane of the American Renewal Project, and evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress. All of them would love to move past Trump.

But none of that should be confused for having principles. These white evangelicals aren’t distancing themselves from Trump because they’re bothered by his recent associations and obsessions. They just want to back the winning team and they don’t think Trump will succeed in 2024. It’s far better for them, strategically, to act like free agents rather than place all their chips on Trump.

Make no mistake, though: If Trump were to somehow win the 2024 Republican primary, these same evangelicals would endorse him, vote for him, and use their platforms to encourage other Christians to do the same.

I can say this with near certainty because it’s exactly what they did in 2016. When the Access Hollywood video showed Trump bragging about sexual assault, none of them backed away from him. When he extorted the Ukrainian president and later got impeached for it, none of that mattered to them. Neither did the kidnapping of refugee children, his blatant racism, his constant lies, or his hatred of actual democracy. White evangelicals, by and large, were willing to let all of that slide in exchange for a few Supreme Court seats and other judicial appointments.

This is true of evangelical leaders just as it’s true of white evangelicals in general. In 2016, roughly 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. In 2020, that number barely budged.

And why would the numbers change? Just look at their leaders: They lay their hands on Trump in the Oval Office, celebrated his photo-op holding a Bible outside a church after gassing peaceful protesters, and served as his mouthpieces during the worst moments of his term. On the eve of the 2020 election, it was Jeffress who said Trump was “the most pro-faith president in American history.”

Those Christian leaders had four years to do the right thing and they failed at every turn.

Now, years later, their mild statements of condemnation shouldn’t be mistaken for actual rejection of Trump or Trumpism. They are willing to put up with everything Trump says and does as long as he wins. Power is more important than principle. That’s what Jesus taught them.

Not a single one of the pastors quoted in the Semafor article have the guts to say, “If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024, I will encourage Christians everywhere to vote for the Democratic candidate.”

No one makes that point better than Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In October of 2016, he wrote in the Washington Post that conservative Christians should not vote for Donald Trump because they could not “allow a national disgrace to become the Great Evangelical Embarrassment.” But by 2020, Mohler had embraced the Great Evangelical Embarrassment. That tells you everything you need to know about his purported ethics.

Most white evangelicals will act the same way. They will express disappointment with Trump… but they’ll absolutely vote for him if the alternative is a Democrat who believes women should be allowed to control their own bodies. It’s an entire religion committed to causing pain to marginalized groups and Trump is their savior. They’re not about to abandon him if there’s any chance he could win.

They’re also not about to fully denounce Trump because it might alienate the MAGA-loving churchgoers who pay their salaries.

Their best hope is to say they hope that’s not the case… and then, when the inevitable presidential campaign of Ron DeSantis flames out spectacularly, they’ll hope everyone forgets their disloyalty and run right back to Trump’s side.

Jeffress, the Trump-loving pastor who pretends to stay above the fray, put it perfectly to Semafor:

“It’s a matter of personal priorities,” Jeffress said. “And right now, getting in the middle of a Republican civil war is not one of my priorities.”

Notice how he worded that. “Right now,” he doesn’t want to get in the middle of a “Republican civil war.” But when the war is over and Trump gets through the primaries, Jeffress will be first in line to worship at the feet of his true god.

These people are pathetic and unprincipled. No one should expect them to take the moral high road when we have years and years of evidence of them scraping the bottom of the barrel.

To her credit, Talcott adds her own view at the end of the piece and says “It’s far too early to write Trump off with any political constituency, and Christian leaders have scrambled to shift their positions before.” That’s accurate. That should have been the story, that Christian leaders were eager to move away from Trump but there was no reason to take them seriously because their words cannot be trusted. Unfortunately, that (fair) assessment was offered as an afterthought, contradicted by the headline and gist of the entire article.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.