Evangelical women in Texas swinging away from Trump Republicanism

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The New York Times published a story yesterday on a new trend in Texas – white, conservative evangelical women turning toward the Democrat in the senate race, and away from Republican candidate Ted Cruz. The story interviews four women in Dallas:

All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas.

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

The reason behind their shift is about morality.

The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke… confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border. When an older white evangelical man recently told her that she couldn’t be a Christian and vote for Mr. O’Rourke, Ms. Clarke was outraged.

“I keep going back to who Jesus was when he walked on earth,” she said. “This is about proximity to people in pain.”

It’s hard to tell how much this trend may affect the elections:

One in three Texans are evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center, and 85 percent of white evangelical voters in Texas supported Mr. Trump in 2016, higher than even the national average, which was a record high for a presidential election. Republican strategists dismiss the notion that their Texas base shows any signs of cracking.

“It’s not worrisome at all. That would be an anomaly,” said Chris Wilson, a strategist for Mr. Cruz, citing data from his firm showing Mr. Cruz leading Mr. O’Rourke 87 percent to 11 percent among evangelical activist voters.

The New York Times’s Upshot section has been polling the race, and most public opinion polls show Mr. Cruz holding a small lead.

Still, Ms. Mooney and her friends may represent an under-the-radar web of white, evangelical women in Texas whose vote in November may be more up for grabs than at any time in the recent past. They are angry with many of Mr. Trump’s policies, and frustrated because they feel their faith has been weaponized to support his agenda.

Church influence is powerful, but that influence is coming from multiple perspectives:

Kelsey Hency, who graduated from the conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, talked about how she had adopted a black infant as Mr. Trump swept the Republican primaries and had realized how much she needed to learn about race. “It brought the torrent of everything else,” she said. “When I look at Cruz, I think he sees Republican politics. When I look at Beto, I think he sees vulnerable people who need to be supported.”

The women were especially frustrated with pastors in their own backyard, like Robert Jeffress, who leads the nearby First Baptist Dallas and who is one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters.

“You are doing so much damage,” added Sarah Bailey, as if Mr. Jeffress were in the room.

“He’s a pastor, so I should identify with what he says,’’ Ms. Bailey said. “That’s how I grew up. For me, it was finally knowing that it was O.K. to push back.”

At times, however, their support feels hush-hush. A few of their other friends who support Mr. O’Rourke are married to men who support Mr. Cruz and have refused to let them speak about it publicly. One friend said she wanted to protect her marriage, and worried she’d be “crucified, burned at the stake” if people found out, Ms. Clarke said.

“My hope would be that women in similar places as us would feel liberated from the expectation that you’re just doing the same thing you’ve always done, because it’s safe, because it’s what your pastor is telling you to do, or your husband,” Ms. Clarke said. “We have to own it.”

Images:
Skyline, By Drumguy8800, CC BY-SA 3.0
First Baptist Church Dallas, photo by Joe Mabel, 2008

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