Many white evangelicals did not follow their leaders voicing grave concerns about Donald Trump, according to exit polls showing the president-elect winning four out of every five votes cast by a demographic long taken for granted by the GOP.
The NBC News exit poll showed Trump winning about 80 percent of the votes of white evangelicals, roughly the same as Mitt Romney in 2012.
Fox News, ABC News and FiveThirtyEight — a political blog started in 2008 by statistician and writer Nate Silver — all assessed Trump’s margin among evangelical white Christians at 81 percent to 16 percent, the widest margin for a Republican presidential candidate among evangelicals since 2004.
While polls prior to the election showed the margin tighter among those classified as evangelicals based on their beliefs and actions than among those who self-identify by the label, the numbers suggest little impact of the #NeverTrump position championed by Southern Baptist Convention leaders such as Albert Mohler and Russell Moore.
“Many of the mainstream [evangelical] leaders said no to Trump, but he went right past them to the people in the pews,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said Wednesday morning on Fox Business.
Jeffress, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board who was in attendance at Trump’s Election Night victory party in New York City, said the exit polls revealed a “hidden evangelical vote” of people reluctant to admit they were leaning toward the controversial political outsider.
“A producer last night here at Fox said to me that her mother was in a Sunday school class, and the mother finally confessed to the class, ‘I’m voting for Trump,’” Jeffress said on Varney & Co. “All the other women started laughing and said, ‘We are too, but we were afraid to tell anybody.’”
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, called Tuesday night “the most stunning election of my lifetime.”
Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission who had suggested faithful voters cast a third party or write-in ballot to register dissatisfaction with either candidate of a major party, tweeted congratulations Wednesday to the president-elect and vice-presidential running mate Mike Pence.
“You have my prayers for wisdom and blessing as you lead us,” said Moore, whose frequent criticism of Trump’s moral character at one point provoked the candidate to label him on Twitter as “a terrible representative of evangelicals” and a “nasty guy with no heart.”
“Many of us have deep differences with our new president, and would have no matter which candidate had been elected, but we must pray that he will succeed in leading our country with wisdom and justice,” Moore conceded in a blog post Nov. 9.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, attributed the outcome not to Trump’s persona but rather “the overwhelming urgency of the issue of sanctity of human life and the fate of the unborn.”
“I believe that it was the issue of abortion and the future of the United States Supreme Court that probably meant more than anything else to evangelicals in making this decision,” Mohler said in a podcast recorded early Wednesday. “Faced with a choice between the two major party candidates, it was clear that a majority of evangelicals decided to vote for the candidate who was well known to be crude, egotistical and even perverse over the candidate who was also known to be sinister, conspiratorial and avidly pro-abortion.”
Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of Trump’s faith advisory team, termed the election “historic” and called on America’s leaders “to rise up and bring unity and change in our nation.”
Another spiritual adviser to Trump, former SBC President Jack Graham, urged Christians to pray for Trump. ”He will work hard for our nation and needs the wisdom only God can give to lead a divided country,” the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said on Twitter.
Jeffress said he thinks controversial comments Trump made about women, immigrants and others were only part of the reason many denominational leaders continued to oppose the Republican nominee.
“Some of it was they had backed Rubio or Cruz, and they were too prideful to ever admit they were wrong and get on the Trump train,” Jeffress said. “That was a lot of it.”
Pundits debated whether the evangelical vote reflected support for Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton, but Moore’s predecessor at the ERLC minced no words about his views on the Democratic nominee.
“If the American people elect this witch president, they deserve what they get,” Richard Land, now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, said in an Election Day interview posted on YouTube.