Rev. Franklin Graham, one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders and high-profile supporters of former President Donald Trump, says he won’t be endorsing anyone in the 2024 Republican primary race.
“I’m going to stay out of it until after the primaries have finished,” Graham told CBS News before he gave the closing prayer at the March for Life rally on Friday in Washington, D.C.
Graham, who left the Republican Party in 2015 and has been an independent since then, does not generally endorse during the primaries, but his decision not to support Trump’s primary bid for 2024 may nonetheless come as a surprise because he was such an outspoken defender of him during his presidency and predicted in 2020 that Trump would go down in history as “one of the great presidents.”
Graham’s decision not to endorse during the primary isn’t a “big decision — it’s an easy decision,” he said.
“I’m just not going to get involved in supporting this one over that one. Let’s just let the people decide. And when the dust is settled, I’ll make a decision on that point,” he added.
Graham, the president of the charity Samaritan’s Purse, showed an early interest in Trump’s presidential aspirations. He said in 2011 that Trump “might be” his pick in the 2012 presidential race (Trump opted not to run). He also spoke at Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
Although Graham didn’t endorse in 2016, he held rallies across the country during the primary and general election to boost evangelical turnout. He later called Trump’s 2016 victory a sign “God’s hand was at work.”
In December 2020, Graham tweeted that he “tend[s] to believe” Trump’s false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen and criticized the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him after the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.
Several other evangelical leaders, too, are waiting for the field to fill out in the next few months. It’s a sign that although he’s the former president and the only declared candidate, Trump is not entering the upcoming GOP primary season with the full backing of key allies and supporters.
“I think [the evangelical vote] is always up for grabs. I don’t think any politician should take it for granted,” Graham said.
According to CBS News exit polls of the 2016 primaries, White evangelicals made up nearly half (48%) of the GOP primary voters that cycle. Trump won the support of White evangelicals in 19 of the 28 states where primary exit polls were conducted.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian and potential 2024 contender, is already trying to make inroads with these voters.
He’s on a tour of megachurches that began at the First Baptist Church of Dallas with Pastor Robert Jeffress, which irked Trump, who characterized Jeffress’ very act of hosting Pence as “a sign of disloyalty.” Jeffress said the event did not signify an endorsement for Pence.
“There’s great disloyalty in the world of politics and that’s a sign of disloyalty. Because nobody has ever done more for [the] right to life,” Trump said on “Real America’s Voice” last Monday.
In an interview with CBS News, Jeffress said he has had “some communication” with Trump since those comments. While he said he declined to describe his conversation with the former president, he “didn’t put a lot of stock” in Trump’s accusation of disloyalty.
“My lack of offering an endorsement had nothing to do with a diminishing enthusiasm of President Trump. I have been his most vocal and visible evangelical supporter since 2015. I just felt like it was a little early to be doing that. And I think the best decision is to keep my powder dry for right now,” Jeffress said, adding that “there may be a time” where his endorsement for Trump “may be more useful than it is right now.”
Source: CBSNews, Aaron Navarro, Cristina Corufo
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