They’re off and running, and if history is any guide, most white evangelicals will vote for one of these 11 candidates in the 2024 presidential race, now some 500 days away.
So far, polls show Donald Trump far ahead of his closest challenger, Ron DeSantis, with the other nine candidates struggling for attention. Here’s a look at how candidates are positioning themselves for these reliable voters.
America’s 45th president wants to be its 47th and is so far leading the pack and top opponent Ron DeSantis. “This is the final battle,” he warned one crowd, suggesting voters have a binary choice: Elect him or a Communist. He told other audiences this time he is out for “vengeance” and is considering “termination” of the Constitution if he wins.
Trump already has been indicted twice, and his standing with GOP voters has only improved since then. But with two more indictments possible, even the conservative Washington Examiner is demanding Americans dump Trump, calling him a “disaster.”
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson helped elect Trump in 2016 by declaring him a baby Christian, served on his evangelical advisory committee, and condemned the Supreme Court for not endorsing his election lies.
During the 2020 election, Focus on the Family supported Trump. CEO Jim Daly called him” the most pro-life president” of his lifetime and in an interview, told this reporter his six meetings with Trump during his years as president convinced him that Trump was “sensitive to things of the Spirit.”
Trump continues to receive positive coverage from Focus’ Daily Citizen, its activist information site, if not the warm embrace he enjoyed the previous two election cycles. He still exerts considerable control over the party, but only two candidates openly attack him.
The Florida governor, who announced his candidacy in a failed Twitter show, has punished Disney, the state’s largest employer, for its speech. He has accused public school teachers of “grooming” students for sexual abuse, and thousands have resigned. He restricted how employers handle employee training on racial issues, criticized the Special Olympics for its COVID mask requirements, and eliminated $35 million in approved state funding for the Tampa Bay Rays after team members spoke out against gun violence. He has flown migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. He refuses to speak to the mainstream media. A Catholic, he has angered some church leaders with a major anti-immigrant bill and another bill lowering the bar to apply the death penalty.
Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly loves him.
“You’re like a man’s man,” said Daly, who hosted DeSantis on the Focus radio program. “I’m watching you on the news or watching the many bills that you’ve signed that support the things we believe in at Focus on the Family. It does seem to have like a military precision to it.”
DeSantis works closely with the Florida Family Policy Council, a state representative of the Family Policy Alliance, which Dobson founded, and now serves as Focus’ public policy partner.
DeSantis routinely misconstrues Scripture to rally believers, encouraging the crowd at the National Religious Broadcasters’ May convention to “put on the armor of God,” by which he meant fighting the libs, not the Devil.
He called Daniel Penny, the ex-Marine who killed a troubled man on a New York subway, a “Good Samaritan.”
Franklin Graham endorsed Trump in the past but has taken a liking to DeSantis: “I appreciate the governor’s clear voice and that he takes a stand against the evil that is trying to overtake our culture.”
Russell Moore was less enthusiastic in a recent New York Times story about how DeSantis routinely exploits outrage and cruelty to score points. “The easiest way to prove one’s tribal loyalty in 2020’s America is by theatrically hating the other tribe,” Moore said.
The former Indiana governor and Trump vice president, who stood up against the president on Jan. 6, 2021, is doing a delicate dance. He reminds audiences he is proud about everything he and Trump accomplished, yet says voters must choose between Trump and the Constitution.
Pence says he is “deeply troubled” the government indicted Trump over top-secret documents he kept, but adds, “No one is above the law.” His major policy difference with his former boss is over Trump’s policy of separating migrant families at the border. Pence said he would not reinstate that policy.
Pence spoke at Focus’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2017, and has appeared on the Focus radio program, but he does not seem to be closing the gap with DeSantis.
Focus has not yet acknowledged the candidacy of the 51-year-old former governor of South Carolina and the United Nations ambassador under Trump, perhaps leading her to reaffirm her pro-family credentials by pledging to sign a federal abortion ban if elected; criticizing “red flag” gun laws; and claiming transgender athletes playing girls’ sports causes girls to consider suicide.
At birth, she was named Nimarata Nikki Randhawa by her Sikh parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from India. She married husband Michael Haley in 1996, and shortly after marriage converted from Sikhism to Christianity. They have two children. She has evolved in her views about Trump’s latest indictment, at first blaming it on “’prosecutorial overreach” before calling Trump “’incredibly reckless with our national security.” She also has critiqued DeSantis’ war on Disney, calling it a counterproductive “vendetta.”
The two-term governor of Arkansas is promoting a kinder and gentler evangelicalism at a time when most white evangelicals seem to prefer brutish brawlers. As governor he vetoed that state’s bills criminalizing transgender treatments for minors but his veto was overridden by legislators who graduated from the Family Policy Alliance’s Statesmen Academy.
He is also one of two candidates critiquing Trump, asking him to withdraw from the race after his first indictment, which contributed to the boos Hutchinson received at this year’s slimmed-down Western Conservative Summit.
Focus has not yet acknowledged the candidacy of the U.S. Senate’s only Black Republican member and the first Black Republican senator from the South in more than a century. Scott, 57, who never has been married and has no children, speaks of hope and optimism while Trump and DeSantis paint America in dystopian hues. His campaign road show is called the “Faith in America” tour.
Scott’s ancestors were slaves, and he says he has been the victim of racism but insists America isn’t racist and declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, leading some to call him “Uncle Tim,” a play on the subservience of Uncle Tom.
A committed Christian, Scott has for a quarter century been a member of Seacoast Church, a megachurch in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
The former New Jersey governor ran for president in 2016 but had little to show for it. He endorsed Trump and advised him before turning against Trump after he denied the results of the 2020 election and urged crowds to come to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Christie is one of two candidates openly attacking Trump, saying during a recent CNN town hall: “He has shown himself, particularly in his post-presidency, to be completely self-centered, completely self-consumed and doesn’t give a damn about the American people.”
When he ran unsuccessfully in 2021 to be governor of California, he pledged he would eliminate the minimum wage, claimed Blacks are more racist than whites, and said “women know less than men about political issues.” He refused to release his tax returns, declined to debate his fellow Republican candidates, and was required to correct his financial disclosure statements.
He’s not a Christian, but that didn’t stop The Christian Post from backing his campaign and criticizing “progressive Christian figures” (Phil Vischer, Russell Moore, Ed Stetzer, David Platt, Beth Moore) who didn’t back him. Elder never has held public office but has been a conservative talk radio host for decades.
The author (Woke, Inc. and Nation of Victims) and multimillionaire entrepreneur is a Hindu whose campaign is “anti-woke.” He opposes U.S. support of Ukraine, wants to raise the voting age to 25 for most Americans, and has pledged to pardon Trump if elected.