Recent, high-profile defections have left the president and his campaign spooked about losing a key component of his base
The US president going to church on Christmas Eve should not have attracted much attention. But it was the specific church Donald Trump chose to attend on Tuesday that raised eyebrows.
Instead of attending his usual service at the liberal church in Palm Beach, Florida, where he married his third wife, Trump instead went to a conservative Baptist-affiliated church in West Palm Beach.
The change of religious venue is the latest sign Trump is making efforts to lock down his evangelical support heading into next years presidential election. White evangelicals overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016, and he will need to win their support again to secure a second term. But there have been some recent, high-profile defections in the evangelical community that appear to have left the president and his campaign team spooked about losing a key component of his base.
Trumps troubles began earlier this month, when the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, which was founded by the late Billy Graham, published an editorial calling for the presidents removal from office.
Mark Galli, the magazines editor-in-chief, said Trumps efforts to convince Ukraine to investigate one of his political rivals, the former vice-president Joe Biden, were a violation of the constitution and profoundly immoral.
Trump tried to downplay the editorial by criticizing Christianity Today as a far left magazine that would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever in the White House. But the editorial clearly left an impression, as the magazine saw a spike in subscriptions and an editor for another Christian news organization resigned after the outlet issued its own editorial in support of the president.
Trump now appears to be moving to prevent any more defections, with a new effort aimed at evangelical supporters.
One day after Christianity Today published its editorial, Trumps re-election campaign announced the president would travel to Miami on 3 January to launch Evangelicals for Trump, an event that Trumps advisers claimed was set in motion before the magazine released Gallis piece.
Despite the presidents robust response to the stinging editorial, there are few signs that Trumps evangelical supporters are abandoning him en masse. More than eight in 10 white evangelicals backed Trump in 2016, and a late October poll found that 99% of Republican white evangelicals oppose the presidents impeachment.
Other evangelical leaders also jumped to the presidents defense after the Christianity Today editorial. Franklin Graham, a staunch Trump ally whose father founded the magazine, called the editorial a totally partisan attack on the president of the United States. Nearly 200 evangelical leaders signed a letter to the magazines president affirming their support for Trump.
Those evangelical leaders have a vested interest in seeing Trump win re-election. In the nearly three years since he took office, the president has remade the federal judiciary, stacking the bench with young conservatives who will likely spend decades issuing rulings on everything from abortion to LGBTQ+ rights. According to the Washington Post, Trump nominees now make up a quarter of US circuit court judges, in addition to the presidents two supreme court picks.
Trump has also made aggressive moves to enforce abortion restrictions long sought by the religious right. Earlier this year, the Trump administration moved to restrict fetal tissue research and issued a regulation banning family planning clinics that receive federal funding from referring women for abortions.
In comparison, Democratic presidential candidates have promised to reverse Trumps abortion restrictions and nominate judges who support Roe v Wade, the landmark supreme court case that recognized womens right to access abortion.
In this sense, evangelical leaders may consider their support for the president, a thrice-married businessman who previously described himself as very pro-choice, to be purely transactional.
But on that point, the Christianity Today editorial offers a word of warning. To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: remember who you are and whom you serve, Galli wrote. Consider how your justification of Mr Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.