Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a mere six days before Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election may have had more to do with Alabama’s white Evangelicals than either Israelis or Palestinians.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse December 12, 2017
UPDATE: While my overall prediction was wrong, the dynamics described here still stand, and since late-breaking voters broke for Moore overwhelmingly, it stands to reason the Jerusalem announcement had the desired effect, just not strongly enough to put Moore over the top.
AMMAN — If you haven’t been paying attention, you might think that Donald Trump is just being an excellent Friend of Israel and the Jewish People.
If you have been paying attention, you know that Donald Trump doesn’t do anything unless there is a clear benefit (at least in his mind) to himself. And it’s quite possible that Trump’s recent move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to eventually move the United States Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has at least as much or more to do with white Evangelical Christians in the state of Alabama, as that state is voting today to fill its U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Trump’s picking of Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General.
America has the largest Jewish population in the world (even including Israel) and a far larger population of extreme white Christian Evangelicals who literally believe that the Jews must control all of the Biblical “Holy Land” in order for Jesus to return, prejudicing them wholly against the Palestinians in favor of Israeli Jews, even more so than American Jews, with 82% of white Evangelicals believing that land of Israel was given to the Jews by God, a belief rooted in a literalist interpretation of the Bible. Among major world powers, America is the nation most supportive of Israel, one of only a few nations around the world that don’t view Israel negatively, and Evangelicals are
Nationally, 46.1% of all voters supported Trump and 48.2% Clinton, with 26% of all voters in the 2016 presidential election being white self-identified Evangelical or “born again” Christians, with 80% of them voting for Trump and just 16% for Clinton (the highest margin of Evangelicals ever recorded, even more than George W. Bush, who was himself an Evangelical).
Alabama is nowhere near the average for American politics, though: 62.7% voted for Trump, 34.7% for Clinton, 16.6% higher than the national average for Trump and 13.5% lower for Clinton. It is the state with second-most self-identified conservatives in the nation, only behind neighboring Mississippi. Only five states had a higher percentage of voters who voted for Trump, only seven had a larger gap between Trump and Clinton, and only ten states had a lower percentage of Clinton voters (to put this into perspective, by the 2010 Census numbers, Alabama has the sixth-highest percentage of African Americans—both alone and alone combined with mixed-race individuals—and African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Clinton over Trump, 89%-8%, yet the state still had those lopsided numbers for Trump).
There were no exit polls conducted for last November’s presidential race in Alabama, but we can be sure that white Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump: they voted 88% for Bush in 2004 to Kerry’s 12%, while against Obama, 92% voted for McCain and 90% for Romney and we know Trump outperformed all three with Evangelicals nationally.
White Evangelical voters sure surprised many analysts by favoring Trump in the Republican nomination contests compared with other candidates: Governors. Mike Huckabee (who dominated Evangelicals in the 2008 Republican primaries), Jeb Bush, and Rick Perry, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum (who dominated Evangelicals in the 2012 Republican primaries), and Dr. Ben Carson, who had all been popular with Evangelicals for years. Nationally, Evangelicals make up 25.4% of the vote, with 76% of those being white (making up 19.3 of all voters nationally), while during the 2016 Republican primaries, white Evangelicals amounted to roughly half the participants, with about 40% supporting Trump, 34% supporting Cruz, and third and fourth-place spots barely breaking into double-digits. And we know that, once Trump got the nomination, white Evangelicals had few qualms about uniting behind him.
Evangelicals are a particularly key voting bloc in Alabama, forming 49% of the state’s entire population (tying for the second-highest portion of any state), with over 41% of the state being white Evangelicals. Evangelicals in the state loved Trump in the 2016 Republican primary: in a five-way race, Trump won with 43.4% of the vote: more than the totals for second-place Ted Cruz and third-place Marco Rubio combined. Some 77% of Alabama Republican primary voters identified as Evangelical/born-again Christians, with 43% voting for Trump, and 68% of GOP primary voters were whites who identified as Evangelicals/born-again Christians, also with 43% voting for Trump, but keep in mind that that was with two other candidates in the race who were intensely popular with Evangelicals: Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson (the latter now being Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development).
Obviously, Evangelical Christians are pretty conservative and uptight when it comes to sex, and theocratic Roy Moore’s very troubling, more-than-just a few credible allegations that he dated or molested teenage girls (one as young as 14) when he was in his early thirties and a state official (he was banned from an Alabama mall for preying on girls there) have certainly offended the sensibilities of many a serious Christian in Alabama, let alone the particularly devout Evangelicals. Though Moore was a terrible candidate for other reasons long before these disturbing allegations, there is no question that his alleged sexual behavior has cost him support and is a major explanation for why an Alabama U.S. Senate race that would normally be a Republican blowout is now too close to call. An unweighted polling average has Moore with a clear but small advantage over his Democratic opponent Doug Jones, but there is a strange and wide variation among the polls, with each candidate up by a healthy margin in different individual polls.
All this context makes Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, just six days before this election, pretty easy to understand. Trump could have given Middle East parties to the conflict notice well in advance rather than suddenly and surprisingly making an announcement. He still ended up signing
Frankly, I’d be shocked if Moore loses. I am thinking he will win and win by more than the polling average suggests, and if he does win or win with more support than expected, that will be in no small part because Trump gave his loyal white Evangelical base something about which to be ecstatically excited, which too many were unable to be when it came to Moore for obvious reasons, making the race as close as it is. With the Jerusalem move, Trump is hoping that enough Evangelicals will come home to him (he has heartily endorsed Moore even over the objections of his own daughter, Ivanka) and the Republican party in this election with a new reason to be enthused when their troubled candidate made enthusiasm among too many Evangelicals too lacking for Trump’s and the GOP’s comfort.
The road to victory in Alabama may indeed run through Jerusalem.
© 2017 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome
See related article by same author: Trump’s Jerusalem Jeopardy: A Hackneyed “Holy” Hot Mess
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