For millions of evangelical Christians, President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday night was the vision they held in their heads as they stepped into the polling booth nearly two years ago: a GOP president, filling the Supreme Court with more conservative justices who might drastically curtail access to legal abortion and advance other conservative Christian priorities.
As Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his second nominee to the court in his 18-month term, these conservative Christians saw much of their dream realized.
“It’s a generational decision,” exulted Jack Graham, a Texas pastor who is on Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board. “It’s a decision that impacts not only today, not only us, but our children — our grandchildren, potentially.”
Many evangelical pastors and activists said they would have been pleased with any of the names on Trump’s shortlist for the nomination. After all, that was the gambit that won Trump so many evangelical votes in 2016: He made the unusual move of releasing, before he was even elected, a list of judges he would consider for the high court. And evangelicals liked what they saw.
“That gave them the energy to say I can support Trump, if these are the sort of judges he would appoint,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, recalled. “It was more critical than any of the other issues that were surrounding the Trump campaign at that time. … That’s the main reason Christian conservatives voted for President Trump, was on the question of judges.”
Because of the Supreme Court’s power to restrict abortion — the utmost issue to many evangelical and Catholic voters — these evangelicals have put up with many aspects of Trump’s behavior that they might otherwise have found distasteful. But now that this cadre of evangelical voters have received what they wanted — two nominations, enough to create a five-members conservative majority on the court — that doesn’t mean they’ll drop their support of Trump, evangelical leaders say.
“The more the merrier,” opined James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. He said that evangelicals want to see more conservative justices appointed, in case one doesn’t vote as predicted on their most cherished issues, including abortion and matters of sexuality. They’re eyeing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, as the most likely to retire next.
Jentezen Franklin, another member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said he doesn’t think evangelical ardor for Trump will die down now that their goal of a conservative majority on the court seems to have been achieved. “I knew this was coming. I knew we would have two or three Supreme Court justices that could turn the tide of the culture of our nation,” he said. “I know it drove millions and millions of evangelicals, more than any other issue, to the polls for Donald Trump.”
Mollie Katz, the communications director at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said that some faith groups believe there is a right to the religious freedom to reach a personal decision on abortion.
“We would like to see a justice appointed who would give due consideration to the fact that there are multiple religious views. Religion is not monolithic in this country,” she said. “That there are people of faith and clergy who believe that a woman can make this decision of her own conscience, and that God will love her even if she has an abortion, that’s very surprising to people.”