AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan
For decades, the pro-life cause and opposition to Roe v. Wade specifically have been a major factor in motivating evangelical voters—one of the most significant voting blocks in American politics—to head to the polls on Election Day. But on the heels of last summer’s Dobbs victory, social conservatives are confidently expanding the battlefield to additional pressing and long-existing political challenges. Though the fight to uphold the sanctity of life is far from over, the emerging political priorities of the Republican Party are helping to ensure that this critical part of the Republican voting base remains engaged and committed to advancing the GOP platform.
In nearly every presidential election since Roe was decided in 1973, national political aspirants have won and retained the support of American evangelicals by vowing to support judges who would uphold the constitutional right to life, as well as other pro-life measures like reinstating the Mexico City policy and cutting federal funding for abortion providers.
That support has been critical for Republican presidential candidates in recent years as Democrats embrace an ever-more radical pro-abortion stance. In 2020, for instance, 75 percent of white evangelicals and born-again Christians, who made up 28 percent of all voters, voted for President Donald Trump. That group as a whole ranked abortion among their top three political concerns.
But in the wake of the 2022 Dobbs decision, most meaningful pro-life legislation will likely occur on the state level—handing Republican candidates an opportunity to energize evangelicals and appeal to socially conservative priorities in new and much-needed ways.
Of course, the end of Roe does not in any way diminish the importance of strong pro-life policy on the federal level—and by every indication, the current crop of 2024 Republican candidates knows this.
At last month’s Faith and Freedom Coalition spring kickoff event in Iowa, for example, CNN reported that GOP presidential hopefuls “staked out their positions on abortion,” which still “dominate[d]” the event even in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. Trump, who addressed Iowa voters remotely, touted his record as “the most pro-life president in American history” and pledged to “continue to stand strong against the extreme late-term abortionists in the Democrat Party.”
Furthermore, pro-life groups like the Susan B. Anthony List are actively encouraging presidential candidates and other political figures to officially back a federal 15-week abortion ban, which pro-life advocates generally cite as the point in time at which an unborn child can feel pain. These groups’ continued activism reaffirms that the national fight for life is far from over—and in some ways, it is only beginning.
Nevertheless, as Christianity Today reported last month, even though Republican presidential contenders “made sure to foreground their pro-life bona fides, abortion seemed to be a peripheral issue for some attendees in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.” As one Iowa voter put it, “The pro-life issue is a big deal… But that’s pretty much back with the states now.”
What additional issues, then, will channel the energy of American evangelicals and propel Republicans to victory in 2024?
As most evangelicals and other Christians are well aware, the left’s war on Christianity is now more hostile, aggressive, and dangerous than at any other point in American history. The Biden administration and congressional Democrats are weaponizing the federal government, sending FBI agents to target churchgoers, and imperiling religious liberty in countless other ways. In this sense, Republicans’ plan to motivate evangelical voters is becoming easier.
Another major issue looks to be the left’s embrace of radical gender ideology and promotion of dangerous and experimental drug regimens and surgeries for children. A 2022 Pew Research poll released in the weeks following the Dobbs decision found that an astounding 87 percent of evangelicals reject transgender ideology—a figure that was even higher than among other Christian groups like Catholics and other Protestants.
“In fact,” the Pew Research report states, “White evangelicals are the only religious group analyzed in which a majority say that society has gone too far in accepting transgender people. Members of other Christian traditions—including White non-evangelical Protestants, Black Protestants and Catholics—are more divided over whether society has gone too far, not far enough, or been ‘about right’ in accepting transgender people.”
Evangelicals are also far more likely than other Christian demographics to oppose policies that allow transgender-identifying individuals to use bathrooms and play on sports teams that correspond with their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.
But even with rising concerns about gender ideology and transgenderism in the public square, can Republicans truly count on other culture war issues to drive out the evangelical vote just as reliably as pro-life concerns did in previous presidential election cycles?
As Republican candidates and voters alike prepare for the 2024 primaries and ultimately the general election next November, this question will likely have major implications for how the race develops—and perhaps on the direction of the country more broadly.
“I’ll be honest; it’s hard to pick one,” one voter said at last month’s Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event when asked about his top priority for the coming election. “I just want somebody who is going to tell me the truth.”
At a time when the truth is perhaps more imperiled than ever before in our political life, the opportunity for a new, robust coalition of Christian and conservative voters presents the American right with many exciting possibilities. 18 months out from what could be the most significant presidential election in American history, there could be no better time to break new ground.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.