If true, it could put Donald Trump and Republicans in a tough spot come November. As the media focus intensifies over Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy and the family separations that result, some of Trump’s most loyal supporters in the evangelical-Christian community have begun distancing themselves from the president. That includes Franklin Graham, which called the practice “disgraceful,” but The Hill reports that Graham’s not alone:
Recent hits on Trump have come from some surprising quarters, including Franklin Graham, an early supporter of the president and the son of the late Billy Graham. Graham called the splitting up of children from their parents “disgraceful” and “terrible” in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last week.
On Tuesday, another influential Christian leader published an op-ed in The New York Times that jabbed at the policy. Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, wrote: “We should execute justice, yes. But not with the kind of cruelty we’re reading about from the border with Mexico.”
A third blast came from the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also on Tuesday.
The organization’s founder and chairman, Ralph Reed, wrote that the separations were “heartbreaking and tragic” and “part of the larger tragedy of a broken immigration system that does not reflect our values or our faith.” Reed, however, put the onus on Congress to fix the situation.
Evangelicals have come under tremendous pressure for their support of Trump for the past two years, ever since Trump wrapped up the GOP nomination. The demo remains one of the most doggedly loyal to Trump in poll after poll, in large part due to the personal support of leaders like Graham, Reed, and Vander Plaats, among others. If this crisis begins peeling them off the Trump train, it’s going to get mighty lonely in November.
While this doesn’t pose the same degree of political threat to Trump’s base, the evangelicals picked up some support from Pope Francis today as well. The US Catholic Conference of Bishops had condemned the practice of separating children from their families earlier, and the pontiff explicitly endorsed that position, although Francis added that the problem didn’t start with Trump:
Speaking to Reuters, Francis said, “Let it be clear that in these things, I respect the bishops’ conference.”
The U.S. bishops began their bi-annual meeting last week with Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the bishops’ conference, issuing a statement condemning the policy of separating families at the border, emphasizing that “separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.” …
Francis said “the governments of the past” have also pursued such policies, noting his Feb. 18, 2016, Mass in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – which is on the U.S. border – was drawing attention to the plight of migrants during the Obama administration.
“There was already a problem,” the pope said.
While Catholic support for Trump largely mirrors that of the general electorate, this still represents a unique political problem for the White House. The administration has taken great pains to highlight its pro-life actions in diplomatic, regulatory, and judicial choices. Those arguments are explicitly aimed at politically active evangelicals and conservative Catholics, with the clear intent of getting them to turn out in large numbers this fall. The terrible optics of the family separation outcomes that predictably result from the zero-tolerance enforcement policy threatens to undo all of that good work over the past year.
This is, of course, why Chuck Schumer wants to block any legislative fix. He can recognize a winning hand, even when the White House can’t recognize a losing hand. Trump and his team are getting outplayed, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
Addendum: It’s a fair question to ask just how threatening this will be to pro-life support for Trump and the GOP. The risk here isn’t that these voters will suddenly start voting for pro-abortion Democrats, but that they will not feel enthused to turn out and organize for the GOP in the midterms. Without that kind of momentum, Republicans will have a very tough time holding onto the House and might run into problems holding the Senate, too. It would be an even bigger risk if Democrats hadn’t spent the last few years running pro-life voters and candidates out of their party, of course.