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Trump’s Approval Slips Where He Can’t Afford to Lose It: Among Evangelicals

  • June 06, 2020

Victory in these battles seems within reach — as long as Mr. Trump is in the White House.

“It’s 2020, and people see it as a civilizational election on both sides,” said Frank Cannon, president of the socially conservative American Principles Project.

Lost among the backlash to Mr. Trump’s photo op at St. John’s this week was the message that many religious conservatives took from it. “Symbolically, it was more important than how he did it,” Mr. Cannon said. The next day, the president and the first lady participated in another photo op that was heavy in religious symbolism, visiting a shrine to Pope John Paul II in Washington that is owned by the conservative Catholic organization, the Knights of Columbus.

Some social conservatives had felt embattled as state and local governments closed down churches as the coronavirus spread. The raging debate over the last several weeks over whether they should be allowed to reopen has become the latest flash point in the country’s culture wars.

Despite efforts by Attorney General William P. Barr to offer legal support to churches fighting orders to remain closed, some religious conservatives felt the White House had not acted quickly enough to help and expressed their displeasure to senior administration officials, according to people aware of the conversations. Some have also raised questions with the president’s aides about whether his sinking poll numbers are a serious concern.

So when Mr. Trump marched across Lafayette Park to the scarred house of worship on Tuesday after members of the armed forces he commands swept out the demonstrators, many took that as a sign that the president was taking a defiant stand for conservative Christians.

“I think that was a moment the president was expressing, in his own way, his support for the faith community,” said Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America. She said she wasn’t at all offended by the removal of the protesters, which involved the heavy use of force and clouds of pepper spray.

Nor did it bother her that Mr. Trump did not pray — he only raised the Bible above his head and displayed it for the cameras. “He didn’t come from our world,” Ms. Nance said. “He’s not Mike Pence.”

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