College-educated Evangelical Christians would prefer to see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the White House than his chief rival, former US president Donald Trump, if elections were held today, according to two leading Evangelical intellectuals who visited Jerusalem last week.
“Ron DeSantis is number one for educated Evangelicals,” said Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University and co-chairman of the Western Conservative Summit. “My students would lean more toward DeSantis.”
DeSantis has not formally declared that he will run for president, but speculation is high that he will do so.
Hunt and Dr. Donald Sweeting were in Israel with Jewish and pro-Israel Christian philanthropists and businesspeople for the opening of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Sweeting, chancellor of Colorado Christian University, is the scion of a family with deep, influential roots in Christian education. He is an Evangelical who studied at Oxford University.
“Ron DeSantis is number one for educated Evangelicals. My students would lean more toward DeSantis.”Jeff Hunt
Sweeting said Evangelicals support and appreciate Trump because of his ability to move conservative policies forward, most notably putting three conservative Supreme Court justices in place, all of who voted to overturn federal abortion rights – something that Evangelical Christians have been pushing for more than half a century.
He was also instrumental in increasing support for faith-based education and bolstering the State of Israel.
“But I don’t think he can take that support for granted,” Sweeting told The Jerusalem Post. “Trump is good on TV, but he does not say that much. DeSantis says a lot more and has more self-control – and that matters. He is a better version of Trump in some ways – more level-headed and less narcissistic.”
Hunt added that Evangelicals are “very polite people and don’t value conflict. They are not naturally combative. So when president Trump goes that direction, Evangelicals feel uncomfortable.”
And he said that while Trump jumped 10 points in the polls on the day he was indicted and reportedly 200,000 people called into a conference call arranged by Pastor Paula White to pray for the former president, he believes just as many Evangelicals would like to get back to the “old days of politics where you do not have to think about politics all that much.
“That is where Ron DeSantis is appealing to people. You get the deep commitment to policy, but you don’t have to deal with him yelling at the media and the media yelling at him,” Hunt continued. “He pushes back at the media but is not always in your face. You just get exhausted after a while. That is what I am hearing from college-educated Evangelicals.”
DeSantis nabbed Hunt’s Western Conservative Summit straw poll for two years running. In June 2022, he took 71% of the vote versus the former president’s 67%. The year before, he beat Trump 74% to 71%.
Moreover, he is the only potential Republican contender polling in double digits. His most recent Real Clear Politics showed him averaging 23% support versus Trump’s 51%.
All other candidates averaged between 0.5% and 5%.
“He is more introverted and policy-oriented than Trump,” Hunt said. “If you listened to his speech in Jerusalem, he was touting all he did for the people of Israel, and that is what he is really proud of.”
DeSantis spoke in Jerusalem
DESANTIS SPOKE on Thursday at the Celebrate the Faces of Israel conference, co-sponsored by The Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. He used the platform to criticize the current US administration’s handling of Iran and its aim to return to the 2015 nuclear deal that his predecessor abandoned.
“That flooded Iran with money that rejuvenated their economy, and that led to the funding of terrorism all across the Middle East,” DeSantis said.
He also accused Biden of losing Israel’s opportunity for peace with Saudi Arabia, which would have been a further expansion of the Abraham Accords and would have kept Saudi Arabia out of China’s grip.
“I think with a proper policy and proper relations, you could see Saudi Arabia recognize the existence of Israel,” DeSantis said.
He noted that “moving the embassy helped get us the Abraham Accords. I think when you, when America shows strength and resolve, people in this region really respect that.”
DeSantis was one of the strongest supporters of moving the embassy and even came to Jerusalem as a congressman to scout out locations in the Holy City.
Locally, DeSantis earned respect from Republican supporters for legislation passed in Florida, including restricting certain rights of the LGBTQ community and refusing to back federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and school closures at the height of the pandemic.
Hunt said that few Evangelicals are outwardly speaking against Trump because if he has a surprise win again, they want to ensure they can work with his administration.
“They do not want to go on record against someone who could be the next president of the United States,” he stressed, adding that Trump still has strong appeal, especially among blue-collar voters who feel the system is rigged against them.
But he said that DeSantis could take the lead regarding Israel.
The former president recently came under fire, including by his former ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, after he had dinner with known white supremacist Nick Fuentes and rapper Kanye West, who spewed dozens of antisemitic comments in interviews and on social media last year.
The former president has also complained that American Jews do not appreciate his efforts for Israel enough.
Trump has been absent from Israel since he left office.
“Israel is the new Iowa,” Sweeting said, comparing Jerusalem to the must-visit early-nominating state and quoting remarks made by Evangelical journalist Joel Rosenberg in a question he asked DeSantis at a press conference on Thursday.
On the one hand, DeSantis made his trip to Israel as part of an international trade mission, stopping not only in Jerusalem but Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, Sweeting noted.
“He wants to show that he knows world leaders, and he is not just a former congressman hanging around Florida all the time,” the chancellor said.
“On the other hand, he also wants to communicate to his voters that he loves Israel, believes in its security, and will be one of Israel’s best friends,” Sweeting said.
Rosenberg wrote a column over the weekend suggesting that “no serious GOP presidential contender can afford to skip a trip to Israel. Not if he – or she – wants to win over Evangelical Christians.”
In 2019, DeSantis promised to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America.”
“DeSantis has followed that statement with consistent policies,” Sweeting concluded. “That has sent good signals to Israel, conservative American Jews and Evangelical Christians.”