Former Vice President Mike Pence’s megachurch tour will take him this weekend to services at the First Baptist Church in Dallas for a conversation with its influential pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress.
‘I do think if he runs, he’ll certainly be a strong contender,’ Jeffress said of Pence’s potential 2024 presidential campaign.
Jeffress, a devoted supporter of former President Trump, said he is withholding any Republican primary endorsement.
‘My sense of where we are right now — and I’ve talked to the former president recently — I think that, eventually, if not immediately, evangelicals will end up coalescing around former President Trump again,’ Jeffress said.
Republicans considering jumping into the 2024 race for president are already courting evangelical voters whom faith leaders say will be essential to winning the nomination.
‘It really boils down to arithmetic, not moral theorizing,’ said Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
‘There is no path to the Republican nomination for president in 2024 without, in my opinion, not only appealing centrally, as a core part of one’s message to those voters, but I think winning a plurality of those voters in a crowded field.’
In November’s midterm elections, 80% of White Evangelical Christians voted for the Republican House candidate over a Democratic opponent, according to the 2022 Fox News Voter Analysis. That survey also found a third of Republicans voting in the midterms were White Evangelical Christians.
Other possible Republican candidates are also appealing to the evangelical vote. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s faith has been a centerpiece of his time in public office.
‘People of faith — especially evangelicals — matter enormously in our elections,’ Pompeo told Fox in a statement. ‘These are Americans who understand that the American idea is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian values, especially basic respect for life and the fundamental dignity of every person. It is of the utmost importance that conservatives provide policies and leadership that deliver good outcomes for these faithful Americans.’
In Florida, some prominent evangelical leaders, like Tom Ascol of Grace Baptist Church, have praised Gov. Ron DeSantis for his record on education, abortion and vaccine mandates.
Evangelicals and all Republican primary voters face the extraordinary scenario of a former president, who lost in his previous re-election bid, announcing another run for office. Trump enjoyed wide support among Republican voters as the party’s two-time nominee. He’s the first GOP candidate to announce he’s running in 2024.
‘He will be a formidable candidate, and he will have strong support. And he will get a very fair hearing from voters of faith, I assure you,’ said Reed. ‘I think there’ll be a diversity of views as to who the best candidate will be.’
Trump won 61% of the evangelical vote in 2016 and bettered it to 69% in 2020, according to Pew Research Center. His three Supreme Court justice appointees agreed in the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending nationwide abortion protections.
The former president recently blamed the GOP’s disappointing midterm performance on Republicans’ handling of the abortion issue, ‘especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters,’ he posted on Truth Social. ‘Also, the people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion, got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again.’
‘I think people are misinterpreting his comments,’ said Jeffress. ‘He’s not saying that Republicans are wrong, but he’s just pointing out a political reality that the majority of Americans do not support a no-exceptions rule to abortion. And that’s just where the American public is.’
‘In the immediate aftermath of one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions in our lifetimes, if not in American history, it is naive and political malpractice to not lean into that,’ said Reed, commenting on Trump’s post.
Citing a Faith & Freedom Coalition policy that board members would remain neutral, Reed said he is withholding an endorsement for now.
‘That, I suppose, could be revisited. I would not say that that policy would never be looked at,’ said Reed. ‘As of now, I’ve got a lot of good friends who are either currently running for president or may look at it. And I’m for my friends.’