Evangelicals got what they wanted from Trump — now 'it's time to turn the page'
Evangelical pastors pray over Donald Trump. (Official White House Photos by Joyce Boghosian)

Religious conservatives got what they wanted from Donald Trump's presidency, but now some are moving on.

Evangelical activist Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of the Family Leader organization, said he was grateful to the former president for his judicial appointments, which resulted in the overturning of abortion rights, and for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but he told the New York Times that Trump shouldn't necessarily expect religious conservative leaders to back his 2024 campaign.

"No way," said Vander Plaats, who has criticized Trump in the past.

Trump lashed out this week at Pastor Robert Jeffress after he shared the stage Sunday at his Dallas megachurch with Mike Pence, who is considering a challenge to his former running mate, and Vander Plaats said that attack would hurt him with other evangelical leaders.

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“When I saw his statement, I thought, ‘You’re not going to gain any traction by throwing the most loyal base under the bus and shifting blame,’” Vander Plaats said.

Trump has blamed the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade on the Republican failure to retake the Senate and win only a narrow House majority, but Vander Plaats and other conservatives say the former president picked weak candidates like Mehmet Oz, who did not make abortion a focus of his Senate campaign.

“Having an instinct to go after a very loyal base that you’re going to need in the Iowa caucuses, in the Republican primary, that’s just a bad instinct or it’s really bad advice,” Vander Plaats said. "It’s time to turn the page."

Ralph Reed, the founder of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Republicans were caught unprepared after the court ruling striking down abortion rights, and urged evangelical voters to credit Trump for the ruling.

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“Too many Republican candidates tried to stick their heads in the sand, ignore the Dobbs decision and talk singularly about inflation and gas prices, with predictable results,” Reed said. “Trump is correct that if the party is going to succeed in 2024 and beyond, it has to own this. We’ve got to have a plan, get on offense and portray the Democrats as the extremists.”

Jeffress, who has not yet endorsed a candidate for 2024, said he didn't view Trump's response to his appearance with Pence as an attack, but said evangelical voters would rally around the former president if he's the nominee -- which he believes is likely.

“I just don’t see the need for an endorsement right now — not because of any lack of enthusiasm for President Trump, but I think keeping my powder dry might be the best thing for the president,” Jeffress said. “Timing is everything, and I think it might be a little early to do that.”