Eric Trump speaks at an Evangelicals for Trump event on September 15.
Joann Roberts had never been to a political rally before.
She prays for President Donald Trump every day and watches messages from his faith advisers online, including televangelists Paula White-Cain and Jentezen Franklin. When Roberts heard they would be speaking at a campaign event in Georgia, the Southern Baptist mom of three took off from her job as a hospital administrator and made the hour-long drive to a field in the far-flung Atlanta suburbs.
Wearing a neon pink shirt printed with the slogan “God, Family, Guns, and Trump,” she fit right in.
The 500-plus crowd at this week’s Evangelicals for Trump rally included local politicians, GOP organizers, and even an unannounced visit by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, but most were people like Roberts. They were veterans, retired couples, bikers, college students, and homeschool moms, all Christians who felt like this year they needed to do something more to show their support.
Several volunteers distributing hand sanitizer and masks (not required, but around a quarter wore them) said this was their first time working with a political campaign. They traded stories about going door to door for Trump and turning their guest rooms into makeshift call centers. They compared churches and voting districts. They offered compliments over their MAGA gear. “I got it at Ace Hardware,” one woman beamed when asked about her Trump 2020 mask. “They can’t keep them in stock!”
More than anything, these Georgia Christians gushed over what they had seen during Trump’s presidency: a leader who came through on his pledge to appoint conservative justices, defend religious freedom, and oppose abortion. “He really just kept his promises,” said Fred Engel, wearing a red plaid shirt and a volunteer lanyard around his neck. “I don’t remember a single politician in my 68 years who did that.”
While detractors critique the president as divisive, arrogant, and cruel, voters like Engel instead view Trump as a family man, with the devoted support of Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric, who came out to stump for his father at the Cumming, Georgia, rally. The crowd offered up a collective “amen” when Eric suggested that “in the Bible, it’s always an imperfect person” used by God.
“I believe my father was put here for a reason,” the younger Trump son said. “It was because of a higher deity and entity, and that’s why the evangelical community has rallied around him.”
Despite the white evangelical turnout for Trump before, it wasn’t quite like this last time.
“I believe most evangelicals—most pastors for certain—four years ago probably voted against Hillary Clinton. Four years later, many if not most are voting for Donald Trump,” said Chuck Allen, a local pastor who prayed to open the event. “That’s a significant difference.”
Polls back him up on the first part. A majority of white evangelicals who planned to vote for Trump in 2016 were driven more by their opposition to Clinton than by the appeal of Trump as a candidate, Pew Research showed.
But now, while Trump’s evangelical opponents are more vocal against the president’s polarizing rhetoric and America First policies, supporters instead say they have reason for more enthusiasm. They cite Trump’s conservative stances in office and the spiritual backing of several evangelical leaders who have had an open door to pray with him at the White House throughout his first term.
As sociologist Gerardo Martí wrote, Trump has made inroads with evangelicals “because he engages in actions in support of religiously defined group interests rather than as a result of statements of belief or piety of behavior.” Even with some slips over the first half of the year, more than half of white evangelicals (59%) still “very strongly” approved of the president as of this summer, compared to 29 percent of Americans overall.
The Trump campaign has set out to maximize that support. It amped up its evangelical outreach, beginning with a kickoff event in Miami at the start of the year featuring No. 45 himself and continuing with hundreds of local MAGA meetups and dozens of “prayer, praise, and patriotism” events ahead of the November election.