The Religious Right’s Hypocritical Attacks on Barack Obama Over Latino Evangelical Voters 

Samuel Rodriguez speaking at President Trump's inauguration ceremony (Image from U.S. Capitol Pool Feed / C-SPAN)

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez and other right-wing leaders misrepresented and criticized former President Barack Obama last week for statements he made about Latino evangelical voters on a radio program just before Thanksgiving.

Obama appeared on “The Breakfast Club” radio show and podcast Nov. 25 to promote his new book, “A Promised Land.” In a conversation about the 2020 election, Obama commented on Trump’s support among Hispanic evangelicals. While Latino voters backed Biden strongly and were essential to his victories in battleground states, the Trump campaign aggressively courted Latino evangelicals, and President Donald Trump’s better showing among that group than among Latinos generally contributed to his margin of victory in Texas and Florida.

Obama was simply recognizing that fact. ““There’s a lot of evangelical Hispanics who, the fact that Trump says racist things about Mexicans, or puts undocumented workers in cages, they think that’s less important than the fact that he supports their views on gay marriage or abortion,” he said.

Rodriguez, who prayed at Trump’s inauguration, slammed Obama in comments that were picked up by the Christian Broadcasting Network:

“I’ll tell you what I’m not thankful for this Thanksgiving: the ever-escalating close-mindedness of the Democrat Party. President Obama, whom I admire, is apparently angry because Hispanic Americans have minds of their own. As I have said at every opportunity, we are not – and will not be – beholden to the elephant or the donkey,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

“A much more useful exercise for President Obama would have been to lead the Democrat Party to some humble self-reflection rather than further down the fundamentalist path of the leftist politics of exclusion. Bigotry is still bigotry even if it comes from President Obama,” he continued.

Rodriguez’s comments were disingenuous at best. Rodriguez has repeatedly told Hispanic evangelicals that their voting decisions should prioritize opposition to abortion and support for the religious right’s view of religious liberty.

In 2016, Rodriguez criticized some of candidate Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and immigrants, but he ended up telling Latino evangelicals that Trump’s promise to give the religious right an anti-abortion Supreme Court was more important than anything he might say or do about immigration.

Last year, Rodriguez launched a “Free to Preach” campaign focused on 2020 swing states that was seemingly designed to spread fear among Latino evangelicals that Democratic political victories would bring religious freedom to an end in the United States. This year, Rodriguez appeared in a pro-Trump movie, wrote a column for an issue of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association magazine devoted to promoting Trump’s reelection, and participated in an Evangelicals for Trump event at which he charged that the Democratic Party was “hostile to our Christian worldview in every sense of the word.”

“If your Christianity is the most important thing in your life, dare ye not press the lever for a party that is anti your faith, your pro-life agenda, your pro-religious liberty agenda, and your agenda of biblical justice that will fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Rodriguez told Evangelicals for Life attendees.

Given that Rodriguez himself has repeatedly urged Hispanic evangelicals to prioritize conservative culture war issues in voting, one would think that he might welcome Obama’s recognition that Latino voters are not a monolith and that some Hispanic evangelicals prioritize the same issues as their conservative white non-Hispanic evangelical counterparts. Instead, Rodriguez somehow managed to portray that recognition as “bigotry.”

Rodriguez wasn’t the only one to indulge in manufactured outrage about Obama’s comments. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-M.O., suggested that Obama had portrayed Hispanic evangelicals as “backwards” and called him “condescending.” Right-wing pundits like Mark Levin and Ben Shapiro also wrongly accused Obama of having labeled Latino Trump supporters “bigots.”

As for Rodriguez’s snark about Obama being “angry because Hispanic Americans have minds of their own,” Obama’s analysis was delivered conversationally, not angrily.