Everyone knows Donald Trump’s approval numbers are in the toilet—he has an approval rating of only 37 percent according to an ABC poll taken a couple of weeks ago—but many observers are baffled about why the president still seems to be doing well among evangelicals. Sixty-one percent of them approve of the job the president is doing.
During the election, observers marveled that this voting bloc was willing to rally around a man whose personal life was hardly a model of Christian virtue. But evangelical leaders said it was more important to them to ensure a Supreme Court pick they would like, for example, than to worry about how many times Trump was married or whether he spoke respectfully about other people.
A PRRI poll taken during the election found, “More than six in ten (61%) Americans say immoral personal behavior does not preclude public officials from carrying out their public or professional duties with honesty and integrity.” And researchers also noted that “no group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants. More than seven in ten (72%) white evangelical Protestants say an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life—a 42-point jump from 2011.”
Some might say this is simply political expediency. And I wrote a piece during the election comparing what I saw as the more principled reaction of Mormons to the Trump candidacy compared to evangelicals. But it is odd that Trump’s liberal opponents would take evangelicals to task for the divide between their views on a person’s personal behavior and public life.
After all, this is what liberals have been advocating for generations—that evangelicals should be able to separate these things. From the moment it was decided that prayer no longer belonged in public classrooms, the liberal message to traditional Christians has been that they should keep their beliefs to themselves. That message extended to abortion, where Christians were told that “choice” was the name of the game. Sure, you have your beliefs, but you can’t impose them on others. The same was true for gay marriage and just about every other culture war issue of the past several decades. Most recently, evangelicals have been told to put aside any personal objections they have to transgender rights and accommodate people of either sex into their bathrooms and locker rooms.
One would think the left would be celebrating the fact that evangelicals are finally acknowledging that politicians shouldn’t be judged by their personal actions (as Democrats argued ad nauseam during President Bill Clinton’s years in the White House).
It’s odd, then, that at the same time liberals have tried to wrest conservative Christians away from their notion that personal beliefs must determine views about public policy, liberals have come to enthusiastically embrace the idea that the personal is political. It’s not simply that being a woman now means you have to advocate a feminist agenda that includes abortion on demand. It’s that being a racial minority means you should be pushing for less police intervention in low-income neighborhoods and opposition to school choice, among other issues. Abandonment of these policy views is seen as a betrayal of one’s personal commitments (not to mention one’s race or sex).
Does this mean that liberals will leave evangelicals alone if they return to their roots fighting the culture wars both personally and politically? Not likely. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned from the sanctimonious efforts at “resistance” coming from the left these days, it’s that the personal is political only so long as your politics conform to theirs.