How White Evangelicals Won the 2016 Election

He is brash, uncompromising, direct and has no sense, whatsoever, of political correctness. He is convinced he is right and isn’t afraid to publicly proclaim it. Some argue that he, as much as any other human being, helped win the 2016 presidential election. I am speaking, of course, about David Lane, the man the New York Times refers to as the Field Marshal of the Evangelical Army.


David Lane

Of course this was Donald Trump’s victory and not many others can compete with what he himself achieved, against all odds and expectations. And of the supporting players there are many other architects that come before David Lane. There is the brilliant strategist, Steve Bannon, the wordsmith Kelleyanne Conway, the son-in-law, Jared Kushner. There is the early work, too easily forgotten, of Corey Lewandowski. Most of all, there is the steady hand at the helm, of Reince Priebus.

Then there is the day, years ago, when Donald Trump sat discouraged in his Tower, and a perky, attractive, Florida, televangelist named Paula White came on the screen.


Paula White

Trump was missing his old, positive preacher, Norman Vincent Peale. “Gosh, your’e terrific,” said Trump. He flew her to New York and she eventually showed him the Evangelical world.

“You know, I’ve been married three times,” the sinner Donald Trump admitted to the preacher. “Me too,” answered the preacher. They became unlikely friends.

I tell all of their stories in my new book, GAME OF THORNS: Inside the 2016 Clinton-Trump election contest.  But the short snippet of David Lane’s story is one of my favorites.

He did not start out supporting Donald Trump. In fact, he didn’t start out supporting anybody. He focused on organizing Evangelicals to be participants in the process, regardless of who won the nomination. He arranged for any candidate to meet and interact with Evangelical Christians.

In the process, over a 17 year period, he built an effective ground game of pastors and activists. And Lane achieved something more. He united the Evangelical leaders in a way that their competing trade organization and rival denominations could not. Lane just kept coming at them, letting petty jealousies and competition roll off him like water off a duck’s back. He became the Movement’s common denominator.

The numbers are stark. The Democrats built their coalition with Muslims, 1% of the U.S. population, African Americans, 12.9% and Hispanics, 17.6% But they virtually staked the Republicans the Catholic vote, 22% and the White Evangelical vote, 26%.

Only months before the election, the Catholic and Evangelical vote was up for grabs. Major leaders in both camps were openly sympathetic to Hillary Clinton. But leaked Democratic emails had Clinton’s staff ridiculing Catholics and derisively dismissing the Evangelicals. They spoke openly about a post-election plan to co-opt the Catholic Church and change its doctrines, a “Catholic Spring.”

When Bill Clinton insisted that Hillary speak at Notre Dame University for St. Patrick’s Day, her arrogant campaign staff laughed. When President Barack Obama warned that they were leaving Evangelical votes on the table, they dismissed his concerns as last minute jitters.

When the Access Hollywood tape emerged, Evangelical Christians rose up in righteous indignation. A student body president at one of their major universities declared that they could vote “down ballot” and ignore the presidential race. But evangelical leader, Tony Perkins, reminded the believers that the next president would pick the Supreme Court. Most agreed and quietly sat back down.


Tony Perkins

The coup de grace came in the final week. With Trump behind 14 points in some polls, the Hillary Clinton campaign pulled out all the stops and paraded a long list of Hollywood celebrities across the stage at her rallies and urged them to get out the vote on television sitcoms and in specially produced, star studded, YouTubes.

Using the F -word and taking God’s name in vain, the celebrities urged the undecided Catholics and Evangelicals to fall into line and vote for Hillary.

The celebrity talking points all seemed to reflect the same refrain. Trump was hateful, they said. He used foul language. He was racist. But communicating that message with hateful, foul, racist language was more effective to audiences in California and New York City than to audiences in the toss up states, where the election would be decided.

It was not clear how the Clinton campaign expected these entertainers to move voters. Would they use the name of Mohammed as a curse word in a video to appeal to Muslims?


Clinton vs. Trump

On November 4, 2016, a gaggle of celebrities gathered to create a video urging America to get out and vote. Referring to Trump as “garbage” and comparing him to Hitler, they sang, “Jesus f-ing Christ / Holy f-ing shit / you’ve got to vote.”

“If this video motivates one person,” the actress Rachel Bloom said, “especially in a swing state, to just get out there, then it will have been worth it. I just personally didn’t want to say I did nothing. I wanted to say I tried.”

She certainly did. White Evangelicals voted 81% for Donald Trump.

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About Doug Wead
Doug Wead is our presidential historian and frequent guest blogger here on CLC. You can see more of his work here: Doug Wead's Blog

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