Public theologian Russell Moore, a prominent evangelical leader who was an early critic of Donald Trump, says he doesn’t see support for the former GOP president waning and warns that it is “entirely possible” that Trump could seek the White House again and win.
“I don’t think he’s had any change in terms of the support that he has. The question is, is there an alternative? And in looking around the Republican Party right now, it certainly is hard to see who could be an alternative for people’s- for people’s loyalty and votes. So I think it’s- I think it’s entirely possible that he could run in 2024 and win,” Moore said, speaking with David Axelrod on “The Axe Files” podcast.
Moore said when he first spoke out in 2015 against then-presidential candidate Trump, most people in the evangelical social-conservative world, who would later be among Trump’s key supporters, agreed with him. But then, Moore said, he noticed a shift among evangelicals — “not because Donald Trump changed, but because he started winning.”
He said he saw the decision as “choosing between my conscience under Christ and saying things that I didn’t believe. So it would have been- it would have been easy to say, well, this is who most of our people, this is who they’re with, and so I’m going to get on board. But to do that, I would have, I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have lived with myself,” he said.
Moore was heading the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the public policy arm of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Moore left the role this year and now works for Christianity Today.
Moore recalled how he was under constant pressure to not be so outspoken in his criticism of Trump, including after the infamous “Access Hollywood” video that was unearthed during Trump’s 2016 run for office.
He said he “assumed anyone listening to that tape would conclude that this is not a person who is fit to be in public office.
“I was immediately getting unbelievable pushback from people who are saying, you know, ‘How can you criticize someone who’s on our side?’ And I would say, ‘Well, who’s “our” here?’ I mean, this is that — I didn’t sign up to be on Donald Trump’s side. I signed up to be on the side of Jesus Christ,” Moore said.
After Trump was elected, Moore softened his rhetoric on the Republican president, telling CNN’s Erin Burnett in 2017 that we “have a President now, and so all of us, wherever we stand, need to be praying for the President to succeed in every good thing. “
Moore told Axelrod: “I never had a moment where I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get on board with Donald Trump.’ … Now, what I did think was after he was elected, ‘Well, let’s give him a chance in the way we do any other president. Let’s hope that he takes seriously this office, that he tries to unite the American people.’ …Yeah, that didn’t work out.”
Moore later called on Trump to resign in the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
“When I saw that happening, I was filled with rage. And I had many people calling and saying, ‘well, you’re vindicated now on Trump, everyone sees it.’ And I said, ‘no, I’ve learned my lessons from Access Hollywood.’ What’s going to happen is everyone’s going to see the horror of this for a few days, and then people are going to find a way to push it out of the way and say it doesn’t matter. And sadly, I think that’s what happened,” he said.
Moore also spoke with Axelrod about his concern over evangelical Christianity devolving into culture wars and the politicization of church.
“I do think that there are social and political implications to what the Bible teaches that forms us into people with consciences that ought to pay attention to specific matters. But it doesn’t come with a voter registration card, and that’s what has changed quite a bit,” he said.
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