Why Is Trump Still So Wildly Popular?

An Answer to Peter Leithart’s Question From MAGA World

I am one of those “friends and millions of fellow citizens” who share the Trump enthusiasm First Thing’s Peter Leithart does not, but that he wants to understand. As one of Leithart’s Birmingham pastor buddies, I thought an answer that by-passes middlemen, one that issues straight from at least one of the Trump enthusiast horses’ mouths might be welcome. So here goes.  

The first sign that Leithart is not yet thinking the thoughts of Trump enthusiasts after them emerges right out of the gate in his chronicling of Trump awfulness—sexual promiscuity, dishonesty, exaggeration, fickleness, recklessness, narcissism, and vulgarity.

Today, my first thoughts are these—“thank you God for Donald Trump” because “the Democrat party is evil” and “Trump is the only instrument to hand who demonstrates the strength and courage to take them on” and “I hope for a day when there is no need for a Donald Trump on the national scene.” A confluence of convictions animates the Trump enthusiast psyche; convictions classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson associates with a tragic or pessimistic view of human nature and history over against an optimistic or utopian view. 

Perseveration over Trump defects in 2016 is one thing, but in 2024 it suggests the workings, consciously or not, especially among ostensibly conservative Christians, of the utopian view Hanson and us Trumpers tend to eschew. For Hanson, the Trump phenomenon maps perfectly with the arcs of the careers of the mythical figure Ajax and with that of the actual Generals George Patton, Curtis LeMay, Douglas MacArthur, and William Tecumseh Sherman. These variously loathsome persons were first borne with in the face of enemies deemed undefeatable without them, then wildly popular as they fought the enemy and won, and finally discarded as once urgently required and effectively deployed tools but now no longer needed.    

The tragic view periodically assesses the character and greatness of threats to civilization such that extraordinary means are needed and sought in order to resist and quash them. To do otherwise in such circumstances exhibits not reason, love, or some laudatory cool-headedness aware of “complexities” and “nuance” beyond the kin of MAGA world, but perhaps some combination of blindness and/or cowardice—blindness to the comparable heinousness of and threat posed by, for example Hitler and the Nazi Party; cowardice because the evil now being perpetrated by the Democrat party demands costly, self-sacrificing heroics to resist.

Should a potential rescuing hero arise who presents with a truckload of moral defects, never mind. Imagine Donald Trump as the only person able, willing, and actively attempting to rescue you or someone you love from a fire or an icy lake. Would not the MAGA mindset, “Thank you God for Donald Trump” settle in pretty quickly? That happened to us Trump enthusiasts years ago. Immigrant survivors of Mao, Ho Chi Min, Warsaw Pact, and Soviet proper varieties of totalitarianism confirm our concerns and our posture toward the Orange Man.  

Heroics sometimes involve what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “getting one’s hands dirty” for the sake of others even if it costs the loss of one’s reputation. Bonhoeffer, with his eyes wide open, took the tragic view of human nature when he joined the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Hitler took Bonhoeffer’s life before Bonhoeffer could take his. A bust that memorializes Bonhoeffer as a Christian martyr was erected in Hodges Chapel at Beeson Divinity School where I teach and worship. 

Bonhoeffer famously bemoaned the many churchmen prepared to pop the champagne corks should the conspirators succeed, but were not prepared to put anything dear to themselves at risk in the meantime. Bonhoeffer saw civilization itself in the crosshairs of evil. So do Trumpers. Bonhoeffer volunteered to carry one of the bombs with Hitler’s name on it. Hitler had him executed by hanging two weeks before Allied forces would have rescued him. Bonhoeffer missed out on the champagne.  

Trumpers view themselves and Trump, like Bonhoeffer viewed himself, as knowing what time it is and who the enemy is. It’s not them, and it’s not Trump—it is the Democrat Party.  

The words “Democrat Party” are crucial. The threat is not some vague, un-opposable, abstract “Left” or “Far Left” or “Radical Left.” It’s the party with the media, the universities, the district attorneys, and the guns. Not rank-and-file Democrat voters, but elected Democrats and Democrat-serving, unelected bureaucrats who facilitate that party’s agenda. It’s the party whose defects Trumpers fixate upon rather than the Trump-defect list that may rightly have commanded our attention in 2016, but not, at least to us, in 2024.

Such a list includes such items as (1) not just pro-choice but celebration of abortion on demand up to and even in the midst of the birthing process and willingness to punish those who refuse; (2) Biden’s instruction to children that adults, even their parents, who don’t support their transgender identification, are doing them harm; (3) the open fentanyl delivering, child-trafficking, cartel and gang controlled border; (4) K-12 schools flush with critical race theory- and transgender-affirming textbooks that offer illustrated instruction in fellatio and cunnilingus; (5) boys and men in girl’s and women’s bathrooms and locker rooms; (6) the weaponization of the IRS, FBI and Justice Department against political opponents; (7) Lia Thomas (8) intersectional admissions guidelines in higher education; (9) double-standard legal system; (10) totalitarian, free-speech squelching DEI police at school and the workplace; (11) Bars open—churches closed; (12) the collapse of trust in health professionals serving at the highest levels of government; (13) Parents complaining at school board meetings called and investigated as domestic terrorists; and (14) Lawfare. 

For those who reject the comparable heinousness of and threat posed by the Democrat Party to that of the Nazis, we millions of Trump enthusiasts ask the question, why? Is the body count not yet high enough? Please explain. The burden is on you.

The dazzlingly illuminative thought of Catholic anthropologist René Girard (1923–2015), whom Leithart references, does help to account for one feature of Trump enthusiasm. At present, the Democrat party offers the nation not one, but several scapegoats upon whom righteous indignation and all manner of hate is encouraged. These include, as Leithart recognizes, Trump, but also “cisgendered” white men and all identifiably un-woke Christians—the Basket of Deplorables, remember? These are the lepers of contemporary America. Trumpers want to shield themselves, their children, their communities, and the nation they love from the woke, totalitarian onslaught now being unleashed upon them where they live, work, study, play, and worship. They are convinced that people still perseverating over Trump’s defects don’t know what time it is and so will not help them. They’ve already seen Trump doing so. 

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Mark DeVine

Mark DeVine is Associate Professor of Divinity at the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham where he teaches historical theology and doctrine, as well as Teaching Elder of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Smoke Rise, Alabama. Dr. DeVine is the author of several books and writes at The Federalist, American Spectator, The Western Journal, Christ Over All, and American Thinker.

28 thoughts on “Why Is Trump Still So Wildly Popular?

  1. One of the key lines in the article is, “the democratic party is evil”. The paragraph with the 14 points is quite convincing. Best to read it again. Are the anti Trumpers not aware of evil and the times?

  2. The difficulty with this reasoning is that it ignores Trump’s defeat in 2020 and his futile endorsements in 2022. How can he be “the instrument who demonstrates the strength to take the Democrats on” when he can’t win an election against them? He is, pun intended, a “loser” whose couldn’t even obtain a plurality in his sole victory against the most unlikable presidential candidate in recent history.

    The burden of proof is on the Trump enthusiasts to explain why their man is superior to the other candidates when it is clear he lacks the ability to win a national election. Biden’s electoral weaknesses are not Trump-dependent. Furthermore, why am I as a Christian beholden to support a man who openly mocks my faith and views me as nothing more than a pawn to his personal vindication tour?

    It is one thing to bite one’s tongue, and given the binary choice, choose Trump. I may do so come November. It is another to argue that a man spiritually weak in every sense of the word has the strength to overcome evil, and thank God accordingly. Our Lord will not be mocked. Let us not confuse His ability to work through sinful men for an endorsement of sinful men.

    We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. The evil that animates the democratic party will not be driven out by Trump. It is done through the prayerful work of the saints whose “long obedience in the same direction” has and will bring life to this world.

  3. Mark, if you can’t see the extremely obvious differences between the Nazis and the Democratic party, something tells me that no amount of reasonable debate will convince you otherwise.

    But, as a starting point, I’d suggest you talk to some self-described neo-Nazis about what they believe. Spoiler alert: they are big fans of Donald Trump.

  4. On the one hand, you have a totalitarian white supremacist ideology responsible for the genocide of 6 million jews and 1 million Roma people under an expansionist empire whose wars killed approximately 3% of the world’s population.

    On the other hand, the woke and trans Lia Thomas had an unfair advantage in her swimming competitions.

    These things are totally equal, and justify all the evils I thoroughly enjoy supporting.

  5. “Trump is the only instrument to hand who demonstrates the strength and courage to take them on.” Oh my. It’s remarkable in 2024 to read this and similar statements proliferating throughout this article. This is fan-fiction detached from reality. If only Trump were even 1/10 the man his devotees claim him to be.

    Where are these examples of Trump taking on the Democrats’ “woke, totalitarian onslaught”? All of Trump’s fights with the Left have to do with him personally and not with respect to any issues of concern. Trump regularly gets destroyed by and empowers the Democrats, as he yells impotently into the void. He capitulates to them (see COVID, Nancy Pelosi approved budgets, etc.) and is intimidated by them, having admitted on a number of occasions of not taking action because of his concern as to how the Democrats would respond. Trump will do the bidding of anyone who flatters him.

    There was a man in the Republican field – Ron DeSantis- who has a proven record of defeating the Democrats on precisely the issues of concern that Mr. DeVine identifies. In fight after fight, he stood up and took on the Democrats and won in the way DeVine imagines Trump “only” can. In response, what Trump did was oppose DeSantis, while attempting to destroy him and undermining the successes DeVine ostensibly champions. When he stood up for children in K-12 schools, Trump opposed him, while claiming no one knows what the word, “woke,” means. When he protected children and families against Disney, Trump stood with the powerful media and entertainment giant. When DeSantis passed pro-life legislation, Trump called it terrible, etc. So, not only does Trump not have the “strength and courage to take on” the Democrats, but he opposes those who do, ensuring we have no shield from the woke, totalitarian onslaught.

    Trump fights only and ever and always for Trump. All is negotiable.

    On some level, DeVine’s writing illuminates why we are now stuck with such a cowardly, ineffectual, and incompetent candidate, devoid of conviction. “Trumpers,” as DeVine calls himself and those like-minded, are wholeheartedly committed to a man of their own imagination. Unfortunately, the rest of us, who know precisely what time it is, are stuck with Trump as the Republican nominee.

    1. DeSantis was run by the professionally Republican for the sole purpose of stopping Trump. His entire campaign was an artificial construct, from beginning to end, hand-crafted by the right wing of the UniParty that hates actual Republican voters.
      That worked with McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, but by 2016, too many actual Republican voters could see the DeceptiCons for what they really are. Even more can see this in 2024.
      That you apparently can’t, even now, is a shame, but doesn’t really change anything.

      1. “DeSantis was run by the professionally Republican for the sole purpose of stopping Trump.” On what basis do you make this claim? Who are these people and what did they want from DeSantis? What in his record indicates that this is the case, and what in his record is a cause for concern that he would grant the “professionally Republican” what you think they want? What I did see was the RNC – the “professionally Republican” – and just about all elected officials at the federal levels get behind and endorse Trump. What I see is Trump owns and bends the Republican party towards one goal – loyalty to him, unrelated to policy.

        Your comment doesn’t address Trump’s ineffectiveness and inability to actually take on the Left, but get pummeled by them both electorally and in terms of governance, willing to make concessions, as long as they don’t have to do with him personally. Your comment also doesn’t address DeSantis’s stream of policy successes on the issues DeVine identifies. Unlike Trump, DeSantis has governed to achieve the policy outcomes R voters claim to want and is vastly more conservative than Trump. The story you are telling yourself doesn’t comport with the public record.

  6. I wonder why a website that is dedicated to making America into a Christian Nation and defines and promotes the idea of the Christian magistrate would post an article that supports the candidacy of a person whose personal life and many of his political promises are going in a direction that is opposite of Christianity.

  7. The anti trumpists prefer the evil of the Left with its transing and grooming of Christian children over supporting a candidate that is flawed yet fights. Not even ending Roe V. Wade was enough for them to support Trump.

    That’s the harsh yet grievous truth. They have chosen the evil of the Left over winning imperfectly.

    I’m not sure the candidacy of Jesus Christ Himself would be pure enough for these people.

    1. Sean,
      Why do I prefer the Left? It is consistently more pro-life than conservatives are. Though the Left is tragically not pro-life for the unborn, it is more pro-life for those who are born than conservatives are. That contrast can be seen when comparing the Left’s views of social safety nets, the rights and plights of immigrants, militarism, and climate science with the conservative views of the same.

      Why do I prefer the Left? Because it emphasizes equality even for groups I don’t agree with. That means that the Left is more pro-democracy because it promotes equality than Trump’s Republican Party. In reality, such an approach was one that Jesus told His disciples to follow and was practiced by the Apostles. Is grooming children to accept those in the LGBT community as equals in society bad? Some of our church kids who came back from college to visit could not reconcile the conservative promotion of marginalizing those in the LGBT community once they met LGBT peers at college. Too many of today’s conservative want an authoritarian government and society where religiously conservative Christians have control over the government.

      Why do I prefer the Left? It is because when it doesn’t take a black-white view of history, it has a more honest view of our history.

      Why do I prefer the Left? For all of its talk about small government, too many of today’s conservatives want an authoritarian government and society that dictates personal morality in terms of sex while some want the government to police religious speech. That’s not government’s job, that is our job as Christians when we evangelize.

      1. You’re not even part of the group I’m talking about, Christianity for you is just a skin suit for leftism.

        Woe to you, calling good evil and evil good, but I’m pretty sure you’re to far gone for conviction. That being said, repent.

        I’m interested in reaching people that haven’t embraced the Lie to the point that they are actively trying to subvert the few remaining Christians, as you’ve done.

        1. Sean,
          Both of us need to listen to the Scriptures that say ‘woe unto you who call good evil and evil good.’

          Did I call abortion good? No. Do I regard those who would reduce or take away social safety nets from the vulnerable to be good? No. Do I think that immigrants who are fleeing from poverty and violence should have a safe place to live with their families? Yes, especially when past US policies significantly contributed to the poverty and violence they are fleeing. Do I think that we should tone down the militarism both here and amongst our allies? With the exception of helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion, Yes. And do I believe that we need to do more to mitigate the effects of too much greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Yes. What Scriptures would you use to say that those views are evil?

          Do I agree with the lifestyles and choices of those in the LGBT community? No. But do I believe that they should have the freedom to live out their lifestyles and choice as equals in society? Yes. I take the same approach to allowing those who hold to different faiths than the Christian faith in our nation. What Scriptures would you refer me to that would change my views there?

          Conflating Christianity with any ideology, whether it is conservative, liberal, or left only makes Christianity the servant of that ideology. And that is something we have to be very vigilant to avoid.

          1. I listen to people like you to know what the current lies are that demonic forces currently want to follow, then make sure I don’t walk that way.

            Is the worst sin to you homophobia? Then I know we must openly talk about the evil of Sodomy.

            Is it the death penalty? Then I know evil forces want murderers to go unpunished.

            Is it not welcoming the sojourner? Then I know evil forces want me and mine to be dispossessed and my children’s inheritance given to strangers.

            Like Caiaphas, you can’t help pointing to the truth, even when you don’t want to. You can’t escape the will of the God you oppose.

          2. Sean,
            So in other words, you prefer to work with stereotypes than to answer my questions. I asked for Scriptures that would challenge the positions I took, and you provided none.

            BTW, I don’t think homophobia is the worst sin as bad as it is, but tell me whether homophobia contributes to our ability to evangelize those in the LGBT community or does is sabotage our attempts to share the Gospel with them?

            Or what about the death penalty? I am not against it but it needs to be more cautiously used than it has been used in some places.

            And who wants you to be dispossessed when welcoming the sojourner?

            As for the overall tenor of you comment, it is full of judgement and the judgement isn’t based on truth. Think about Romans 2:1ff. What did Paul tell the Roman Christians not to do after he described the sinfulness of homosexuality and other sins? He told them not to judge because when they judge others, they condemn themselves because they are committing the same sins. James 2 gives a similar message only James notes that those who judge are lawbreakers like the people they condemn because those who are judging are committing different sins.

            Or take the parable of the two men praying. It was the Pharisee whose prayer contained a judgement of the tax collector while boasting about his own righteousness (see Luke 18:9-14). Tell me when is it safe for the Christian to pray the prayer of the Pharisee.

          3. Your virtues, your winsomeness to LGBT and immigrants, your “whole pro life approach”, all of this is beautiful, really lovely tombs full of dead men’s bones.

            You have the signaling but not the virtue. You are accepted by the society that hates Christians. Nowhere in you is the attitude of following Christ outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.

            You literally argue for children to be groomed into accepting sodomites to be fully accepted as equals in society.

            Your own words are a far harsher judgment than I could ever place on you, but you lie about judgment also, not understanding the basics of Christianity. When I “judge,” I merely witness to the truth, and that is proper for the Christian. When Jesus Christ judges you, it will be to pass judgment Upon you. I can’t do that, but warn you to repent so you can avoid this fate.

          4. Sean,
            You don’t want to discuss what the Scriptures say, you simply want to pontificate making empty accusations and judgments and who knows why.

            When you want to discuss what the Scriptures say, I will be glad to respond. Until then, you take care

          5. Not at all. Rather, I am speaking from Scripture, going to the heart of the matter because that is what you need.

            This is not about a “debate” about “what Scripture really means.” Scripture is clear and has been so for thousands of years on these issues. The fact that you don’t understand that means the problem for you is elsewhere, in the heart. Ask God to help you learn to fear Him properly and then these other errors you’ve fallen into can begin to be corrected. It’s a heart issue Curt, not a debate.

          6. Sean,
            The debate is especially about what the Scriptures say, especially the New Testament. It is a debate about what the Scriptures about how we will share society with unbelievers especially over issues with which we disagree.

          7. You are horribly mistaken Curt, because you have accepted the framing that was presented to you. Your religion is the postwar consensus with a coat of Bible paint over the top.

          8. Sean,
            I am accepting what the Scriptures say when people don’t listen to our preaching. I am accepting what Scriptures say when Jesus told us to not lord it over others as the Gentiles do.

            I am accepting what the Scriptures say at the end of I Cor 5 when Paul shows concern for the purity of the Church but not the purity of society.

            I am accepting what the Scriptures say when after describing the horrific sins in Romans 1, Paul tells us not to judge in Romans 2. James gives a similar message in James 2. And before we are too harsh with the sins of unbelievers, we go back to the parable of the two men praying and how it is never safe to pray the prayer of the Pharisee.

            How do people become acceptable to God? They believe in Christ to save them. And what is required for people to believe? The first requirement is the preaching of the Word.

          1. Probably correct, answered up to this point for the audience, but it’s unlikely anyone reads this far now. Post war consensus is absolutely necessary to understand why Christianity is being subverted by these people now, however. Good day Ryan

        1. Ryan,
          You’re not here to discuss the article. Instead, because my comments scare you, you’re here to lash out. My comments scare you because, as you wrote before, they possibly can cause at least one person to not believe everything said in a given article.

          But with that being true, it would seem that you would prefer to talk about the article than to try to make me the subject.

  8. This still doesn’t explain why conservative “Christians” are voting for Trump, rather than Nikki Haley. Polls are showing that, she too, would defeat Biden if on a ballot. The goal is to defeat the democratic party, there are still a lot better options than Trump, who himself has wavered and softened on his stance on abortion.

  9. I appreciate this article, thank you for writing it. I’m no fan of Trump – for obvious reasons – but considering literally every candidate is also fallen; and far from an integrity-based ideal, I cannot reconcile voting for anyone else. I was planning to vote for DeSantis because he was the candidate that was closest to an abolitionist, but since he’s no longer running, Trump is the only candidate that – in my opinion- recognizes the US is a breath away from communism, and is the lesser of two evils… there is a reason they hate him, and it’s not because of mean tweets.

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