Ross Douthat uses a new study from the Voter Study Group to defend religious Republicans:
In general, churchgoing Republicans look more like the party many elite conservatives wanted to believe existed before Trump came along — more racially-tolerant, more accepting of multiculturalism and globalization, and also more consistently libertarian on economics. Secularized Trump voters look more like the party as Trump has tried to remake it, blending an inchoate economic populism with strong racial resentments.
The problem is that the word “churchgoing” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. How about if instead we just take a straight look at how religious people say they are? To do that, we have to read a report by the same author for the same group published a year ago, which identifies a group called “American Preservationists” as Trump’s core constituency. Here it is:
Despite being the most likely group to say that religion is “very important” to them, they are the least likely to attend church regularly….They are far more likely to have a strong sense of their own racial identity and to say their Christian identity is very important to them….They feel the greatest amount of angst over race relations: they believe that anti-white discrimination is as pervasive as other forms of discrimination, and they have cooler feelings (as measured on a feeling thermometer scale) toward minorities. They agree in overwhelming numbers that real Americans need to have been born in America or have lived here most of their lives and be Christian.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Trump’s core supporters are the most religious and feel the greatest amount of racial resentment. However, they don’t actually attend church a lot.
So here’s the dodge. Nearly every survey suggests that Trump’s most loyal Evangelical voters are also the most racist and xenophobic. But if you don’t like that conclusion, you can instead look at “churchgoing,” and you’ll find that it’s weak churchgoers who are the most racist and xenophobic. Then it’s a quick hop and a skip from “non-churchgoing” to “secular” and you’re all done. Religious Trump supporters are great! It’s the secular ones who are the real problem.
But it’s all sleight of hand. Religion goes together with both national and racial identity and it always has. Trump’s most religious supporters may, like him, not actually show up for church services very often, but they’re still the most religious wing of the Republican Party. They’re also the most racist wing. You might try to camouflage this with irrelevant statistics, but there’s really no way of getting around it.