In a sign of just how important a role social conservative voters will play in determining the 2024 Republican standard-bearer, former President Trump and 10 of his GOP presidential nomination rivals will speak starting Friday at a crucial gathering of evangelical activists and leaders.
Social conservative voters have long been a key part of the Republican Party’s base, and Timothy Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, emphasized that the race for the GOP nomination “goes through the evangelical vote.”
“Anybody that’s going to make it to and through Super Tuesday is going to have to be fluent in speaking to evangelical conservative voters and faithful Catholics, and there really is no plan B in Republican politics at this point,” Head told Fox News.
Almost the entire field of Republican 2024 contenders will join the former president in the nation’s capital at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to the Majority conference.
The event will feature Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, entrepreneur, author, and political commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, former nationally syndicated radio host and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
The Republican presidential contenders are among the 70 speakers who will address an estimated 3,000 attendees throughout the weekend at the confab, which kicked off Thursday and is being held at the Washington Hilton.
Evangelical political leaders push back on talk that the role of social conservatives has been diminished as the party’s undergone a populist transformation the past seven years at the hands of Trump.
“For all the sturm and drang that the faith-based community is on the demise in the United States, it still remains basically 70% of the Republican primary electorate,” Head said.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition — a public advocacy group founded over a decade ago by Ralph Reed, a well-known and veteran political consultant who in the 1990s steered the Christian Coalition — advocates for social conservative positions.
Pointing to the outsized role evangelical voters play in Republican presidential politics in Iowa and South Carolina, which hold the first and third contests in the GOP nominating calendar, Reed told Fox News last year that “you’re not going to win this nomination in 2024 without getting your fair share of these voters.”
“You don’t have to win a majority, but you probably have to win a plurality. I don’t think there’s any way to win the nomination without getting your fair share. These are very important voters,” Reed emphasized.
The conference is being held as the nation marks one year since the blockbuster Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark nearly half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling, which allowed for legalized abortions nationwide. The decision by the high court moved the divisive issue of abortion back to the states.
Head said that what attendees at the conference, “want to hear is a full-throated, unapologetic, passionate address of how a president would plan to defend and restore the protection of innocent life, the defense of religious liberty, the strengthening of the American family, and our partnership with our ally in the Middle East in Israel. Those remain the evergreen four legs to the stool for faith-based voters.”
However, he added that social conservatives, “increasingly they want to hear what a president is going to do about an activist, corporate echelon, plus restoring parental rights in our education system. There are plenty of on-ramps to be able to speak to evangelical voters. But they want to hear passion, and they want to hear a plan.”
Trump, who launched his third straight White House run in November, remains the current commanding front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination polls. While evangelical voters continue to applaud Trump for nominating three conservatives to the high court during his tenure in the White House, which contributed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, some of his rivals for the nomination in recent months have displayed more full-throated support for banning abortion at the federal level.
Dave Wilson, a veteran South Carolina based Republican consultant, noted that “Trump has his core block of voters locked down — those who are with him no matter what — but that block doesn’t represent the totality of the social conservative vote.”
Pointing to evangelical voters, Wilson emphasized that “many of them are keeping their powder dry at this moment and waiting to see if any of the other candidates will break hard and gain momentum as they get into this race. These voters, more than anything, want to back a winner who will counter the overreaching woke culture machine that is the Biden administration.”