The Coming 2018 Midterm Elections and Voter Apathy

Barb Wire

The biggest challenge facing Republicans heading into the November elections isn’t Donald Trump. It isn’t even the Democratic Party. It’s apathy. In the seven months between now and the midterms, the GOP will be doing everything it can to recreate the magic of 2016. But one thing is abundantly clear: they’ll need evangelicals’ help — and a lot of it.

History has never been kind to the majority party at the midterm point. Republicans are expecting to take a few on the chin in November. What they don’t know is whether the Left’s enthusiasm will be enough to wrestle away control. A lot of that, strategists believe, will come down to the president’s most supportive base: Christian conservatives. Despite the daily drip of salacious storylines, evangelicals have remained solidly in Trump’s corner — rewarding him for more than a year’s worth of progress on judges, life, religious liberty, taxes, and military readiness. To the media’s astonishment, evangelicals haven’t walked away from the president — they’re doubling down on their support.

Just last week, the Public Religious Research Institute found that white evangelical approval for Donald Trump is at its highest point ever: 75 percent.

Republicans will need to harness every point of the president’s churchgoing base if they have any hope of protecting his agenda moving forward. Last night’s Arizona race was at least one step in the right direction. Despite a last-minute Democratic frenzy, Debbie Lesko held on to her six-percent lead and kept former Congressman Trent Franks’s district in GOP hands. Her opponent, Hiral Tipirneni, managed to close the gap, but not enough to pick off one of the 24 House seats the Democrats need to retake the speaker’s gavel. Although the mood in Arizona was upbeat, voters’ message in a Trump-heavy area was clear: There’s no such thing as a safe Republican seat this year.

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To conservatives’ relief, Lesko has promised to carry on the pro-life, pro-family legacy of Franks — which was one of the reasons FRC Action endorsed her. She’s already told reporters she plans to join our friends in the House Freedom Caucus, where she’ll help keep GOP leaders honest on values issues. “Debbie will do a great job!” the president tweeted before the election — and we agree. And while the talking heads are focused on Lesko’s single-digit victory in a double-digit Trump district, Republicans have still held their own in a string of special elections, winning six of the last nine.

And in the run-up to November, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is making a pretty good case for voters to stick with Republicans, telling a group of Georgetown students yesterday, “We will have a pro-choice gavel when we win the Congress. We need to have at least 218 votes to achieve that.” It’s a “very high priority,” she went on, “to protect a woman’s right to choose.” If that means supporting a pro-life Democrat to get her hands on the gavel, she’s willing. Even so, Pelosi made clear, it’s just a means to a pro-abortion end. “I know this is touchy on this campus — on all Catholic campuses. … And it’s an issue in the diocese,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is, God gave us all the free will [and] our sense of responsibility to answer for that. So I am a rabid supporter of a woman’s right to choose and a similar issue of the LGBT community, because they are connected.”

That ought to be all the motivation evangelicals need to get off the fence on the midterm elections. With Planned Parenthood funding, conscience protections, the 20-week abortion limit, and so much more in the balance, it’s obvious what a lag in turnout would mean: an encore of the Obama years. That’s why groups like FRC Action and other parts of the evangelical coalition are planning what the New York Times is calling the “largest midterm election mobilization ever.” In a feature on how Christian conservatives are turning the November tide, reporters Jeremy Peters and Elizabeth Dias highlight FRC’s voter registration push, our pastors’ outreach, and even our culture impact teams.

The Family Research Council has already activated its network of 15,000 churches, half of which have ‘culture impact ministries’ that organize congregations to be more socially and civically engaged. The group’s efforts will gear up with voter registration drives around the Fourth of July and voter education that will focus on a half-dozen states that could determine control of the Senate. Their tactics are almost identical to the work they used during the presidential campaign to unite a fractured evangelical base. The June meeting in Washington is a follow-up to a gathering in New York in the summer of 2016 that soothed tensions after it became apparent that Mr. Trump would be the Republican nominee.

The Times even talks about FRC’s Watchmen on the Wall ministry, which is hosting its 15th national briefing in Washington, D.C. next month where hundreds of pastors will be in attendance. “The message to energize Christian conservatives has twin purposes: to inspire them to celebrate their victories and to stoke enough grievance to prod them to vote.”

… [L]eaders of the movement plan to lean hard into a message that fans fears and grudges: that the progressive movement and national media mock Christian life and threaten everything religious conservatives have achieved in the 15 months of the Trump administration. ‘Show the Left that you can put labels on us, you can shame us. But we’re not giving up,’ said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

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