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Confronting Christian nationalism with Doug Pagitt: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with evangelical pastor & Vote Common Good executive director Doug Pagitt about engaging evangelical voters and what’s at stake in this year’s election.

Our guest this week recently traveled down to the border to confront the so-called “Army of God” as part of a larger project of providing alternative ideologies to Christian nationalism. Doug Pagitt is a pastor, author and the executive director of Vote Common Good, an organization aimed at influencing evangelical Christians. His group has been on a nationwide tour focused on directly engaging evangelicals in key swing states with the hope of swaying a critical percentage of them against former President Donald Trump. Pagitt believes a small portion of these voters are swayable and that if they are engaged, election outcomes can be flipped. He joins WITHpod to discuss the trajectory of evangelical politics, what he’s learned on tour and what’s at stake in this year’s election.?

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Doug Pagitt: We tend to see ourselves as the hero in the story. In fact, we have a hero, villain, victim narrative in this country that doesn’t serve us very well. We’re almost always the hero, occasionally the victim, never the villain.

Now, I don’t think hero, villain, victim even captures the reality of what it means to be a human being living on this planet. We’re actually co-sojourners trying to make our way. But when you put somebody in a category of hero, villain, or victim, well, you’re going to be the hero. Or maybe you were struggling and the victim-hero is just the best, right? And then you really have the win.

So people are going to find a way for themselves to be the hero. And voting actually is about self-identity and how you view yourself. And so if you can give people a criterium by which they can still do the right thing. We have this little saying for these Republicans where we say, hey, you’re still you even if you vote blue. It’s okay, you know? You’re not giving up anything. It’s all right.

You can make this exception this one time and you don’t have to feel like you’ve lost the essence of who you are. I mean, it’s just voting after all, right? For a lot of people, they’re like, okay, let me pull back from somehow I’m going to stand before God and have to explain why I voted for a Democrat or whatever.

Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to “Why Is This Happening?” with me, your host, Chris Hayes. Well, we’ve been covering the primary, Republican primary particularly, to the extent you can call it a primary on MSNBC and obviously in the news. I’m speaking to you after Michigan just voted where Trump won overwhelmingly. I mean, you know, there’s still a third to 40 percent of Republican primary voters who don’t vote for him, which is important and I think significant.

But one of the things that’s really interesting about all these primary returns, and we’ve seen it in a few different places and particularly saw it in the northwest corner of Iroh (ph), which is real evangelical stronghold. We’ve seen it in other places, in other states, and we’ve seen it in national polling. One of the biggest changes between 2016 when Donald Trump first ran in a contested primary for the Republican nomination in 2024 is the posture of self-identified evangelical voters towards him.

In 2016, particularly in the beginning of that primary, and I encountered this firsthand when I was doing reporting in a variety of states and talking to voters, evangelicals were some of the most skeptical voters towards Trump. In some ways, I think like regular church attendance proved to be one of the best predictors of non-Trump voting in that primary. And I remember talking to people, I mean, just to bear out the data, having conversations with folks who were very devout, pious Christian folks who were just like, no, I can’t. I can’t get behind this guy. Are you kidding me?

And eight years later, that’s entirely flipped. The most stalwart supporters of Donald Trump are self-identified evangelical and Christian voters. That’s true in basically all the data we’ve seen, and not just in the polling data, but we also see it in the returns. Something huge has happened inside evangelical Christian America. It’s part of a larger transformation that a lot of people have been chronicling and writing about. And I’m very curious about the Christian vote in its broadest terms in this 2024 election, because there’s a lot of interesting threads and I think there’s some opportunities, even if it looks like completely a sort of impenetrable fortress from the outside.

And I thought a good person to talk to about that is a pastor, a man by the name of Doug Pagitt. He is a pastor among many other things, but he’s also executive director of Vote Common Good. He’s written some books. And Vote Common Good is an attempt to sort of reach out to Christian voters, evangelical voters, and sort of move them towards the better angels of their nature, at least from my perspective, particularly on issues like immigration and democracy. And so, Doug, it’s good to have you in the program.?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, well, thanks. I really appreciate being here. And such a great setup for this.

Chris Hayes: Can you talk about your religious upbringing and finding your ways to being a pastor?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, I’ve been an evangelical pastor for all my adult life, and I’m in my mid-50s. So I’ve been at this for a long while, but I didn’t grow up inside of religion at all. I grew up in a family with no religious background, so much so we didn’t even think about not going to church. Like some people feel like, you know, they knew they weren’t going to church.

Chris Hayes: Right. You’re skipping or something. No. Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: No. Yeah. Never crossed my mind. Like there were a lot of places we didn’t go and church was one of those. So I didn’t have the family heritage that a lot of people have growing up and being indoctrinated into their religion as a child or because of the love of a grandparent who has held the faith deeply or something. So I got into it as a late teenager. And there was back in the 1980s, a wider group that you would identify as moderate to progressive people that were evangelicals.

I think back that in 1983, when I got involved in all of this, you still remember that just a few years ago, there was an evangelical president who was a Democrat from Georgia. So it wasn’t that big of a deal for someone to have an identity that wasn’t hardwired into the religious right and still be an evangelical. Well, a lot of that has changed as you brought up. So that was my beginning was with inside of an evangelicalism in America where there was more religious freedom and more political freedom to think differently.

Chris Hayes: Tell me how you found your way to Jesus. I mean, how did you come to the Lord, as we say?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. Thanks. The way a lot of people do when they describe this kind of experience as a teenager, I had a friend, I grew up in an apartment complex and he lived in the same apartment complex and we were really good friends. He became a Christian and then started recruiting his friends to do the same thing. We went to a thing called the Passion Play, which happens this time of year when you’re approaching Easter. It’s where churches will put on a play and it’s telling the last week of Jesus’ life in sort of an artistic way. And I went to that knowing nothing about Christianity at all. I didn’t know that Christmas and Easter were related holidays.

Chris Hayes: Oh, wow. You were really coming in blind.

Doug Pagitt: Really blind.

Chris Hayes: Like completely.

Doug Pagitt: Yes. Yeah. I mean, it’s so funny. I had so much more in common with all my Jewish friends who also didn’t know anything about Christianity, you know, the details of it or the ins and outs. So I didn’t know any of this, but I had a real sense of spirituality and of God and of struggle. And I knew what it felt like to be left out and left behind and let down and harmed and all of these things. And I always assumed that if there was God, then God was going to be on the side of the left out and the left behind and let down, all this.

And then I see this play, which is just the last week of Jesus’ life where Jesus is the one who’s left out and left behind and says something like, Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing, and my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? So it was a really beautiful picture that to a 16-year-old’s mind just said, hey, there’s another way and there’s another story to be told here. And I was really captivated by that instantly, that kind of thing that people who have a religious experience feel instantly.

And at this kind of place, I didn’t know what they were doing, but they had what was called an altar call. So they call people to come down front. And if you wanted to be part of all this, and I was like, oh yeah, totally. This sounds great. So I went down and then we went to the back room and sat in little circles and people pulled out a little booklet. Now I know what that is. This is like the explainer of the play that you just saw.

But the thing they were telling me in the booklet was this thing about God being on one side of a canyon and humans on the other and God being separate from humanity. And this whole story that I remember feeling my early minutes in Christianity, like that’s not what they were describing out there on the stage. Out there they were telling this other story of God with humanity, of Jesus and God and people and suffering all being together in that struggle. And now you’re telling me a different story.?

So honestly, Chris, right from the start, I started feeling like, okay, there’s going to be different versions of this Christianity. And I’ve stayed really comfortable with that all along, that there are many versions of Christianity and many people that want to narrate the story of how it goes and how it should be.

Chris Hayes: How did you go forward sort of pursuing your faith and pursuing being a pastor after that??

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, well, I played college basketball and was recruited to play at a college that was affiliated with a church. It was a religious school. But I didn’t know there were Christian colleges. I just wanted to play basketball and went there to play basketball.

Chris Hayes: Where was this?

Doug Pagitt: In Minneapolis area, yeah, a college called Bethel University. And so I was playing, you know, small college basketball and there was really a lot of suggestion that you be involved in a church and they would even give you a little grant from the church people, you know, and when you’re a college kid looking for money to pay for your college, you go anywhere that somebody says they’re going to give you a grant.

So I ended up going to this church and I was really into my faith. It was really meaningful to me and was really working well for me. And so then I got involved in a church and started working with youth at that church and then ultimately went on to seminary and got a seminary degree and kept working in that world. And those early days of Christianity, realizing that for me, this was a faith that was going to make the world better and was going to make my life better and was about bringing people together.

And I have to remind myself of those days, honestly, because it’s really easy now to live in a world where religion does the opposite of that. It wants to separate people and sort of be the decider of who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. And that’s not the best of any faith. All the faiths that I know of call for something else. And the Christian tradition, especially the evangelical tradition I got into, was telling a much better story than that.

And we know there’s a lot of people who are heartbroken by the kind of experience that they’re having right now where they’re having to choose between their faith that’s meaningful to them and a political identity that was wedded together. They didn’t even know the two came as a package deal. We like to say it’s like pulling into a Wendy’s drive-thru and you just order the number two and it comes with the fries. So you said yes to your faith and you didn’t know it came with a side dish of being a Republican for the rest of your life. And there’s a lot of people who feel heartbroken about that and they don’t know what to do and we try to help them separate those two identities.

Chris Hayes: So I want to talk about that at length. But before we get to that, I want to talk about a certain specific ideological strain in evangelical Christianity that’s always been interesting to me and I think is part of the strain that you identified. And it’s a strain that is very different to the sort of dominant ethos of what we might call Christian nationalism and really kind of us versus them identity politics that we see in a lot of evangelical religious political activity now.

And that’s a kind of strain of like what I might call cosmopolitanism that, you know, there’s one level at which one of the first sort of cosmopolitan movements, right, is Christianity, right? That when Paul decides to go out and wins this incredibly important factional dispute within the early church about whether they should baptize and welcome in non-Jewish people. And Paul wins this argument and says, everyone, and he travels around.

Doug Pagitt: Right.

Chris Hayes: This is a cosmopolitan community in so far as you have people from all different kinds of different backgrounds and different places, different places of society. There are a lot of women in the early church. There are a lot of particularly women who are sort of widows, who are sort of funding the early church. There are people who are at the margins of society, all kinds of different people coming to the early church.

And one of the things I encountered when I was doing some reporting on evangelical churches, particularly universities like Wheaton College, an interesting place in Illinois, is that ethos of evangelizing the whole world, that we’re all equal before God. And we want to be united in the sort of body of Christ, whether you’re Ethiopian, whether you’re Filipino, whether you’re Italian, whether you’re a northerner or southerner, that that was a real thing on the campus of Wheaton.

And it was really very clear in that campus and among mission work where people now, obviously there’s things that are politically problematic about mission work. But I guess my point is that there was a kind of version of cosmopolitan under Jesus that was very palpable in evangelical churches and movements I’ve been around and reported on. And I want to just talk about a little bit about that strain, because I do think there’s something like, you know, the idea of like welcoming immigrants, the idea of like God is bigger than like just the United States and our flag is a powerful idea and it’s one that certain parts of the evangelical tradition are pretty connected to.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. It’s kind of talked about inside the circles of Christianity as the best of, right? When you think the best of us is not when we travel the world in order to convert people to think the way we do, but to travel the world to meet people who are experiencing God similarly to the way we are. That’s a different ethos and that’s what you can see in a lot of places that a lot of us who read the Bible, the way you’re describing it, we see that, that the early church was not so much saying, we’re going to tell you things you don’t know, but we’re going to help complete the story that’s already happening with you.

When you describe this thing of the Apostle Paul moving about in metropolitan areas and saying that whether you’re Jews or Greeks or Gentiles, it doesn’t matter. You’re all invited to be a part of this. The idea was that the work of God is not held by anyone, that the work of God was always bigger than any of us could hold. So we need one another in order to tell the whole story. This is why a lot of us suggest there are four gospels in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that don’t agree with one another, the four gospels if you read them. And some people find that as great weakness.

I have a lot of friends who critique Christianity and they say, you can’t even get the same story out of four eyewitness accounts, you know, these four tellings. And I’m like, yeah, isn’t that great? Because I can’t get four friends together that shared a weekend with each other that can tell the same story about what we did. It’s a much more human story that requires all of us to tell the all of us story.

And that’s something that was resisted in early Christianity. There were, as you say, there were debates about this. There were arrests that went on. There was persecution that went on. You know, when Paul went into the home of a Gentile, he was nearly kicked out of the church. When Peter did the same thing, he was nearly excommunicated because there was a strain of Christianity that wanted to keep it pure. And if people were going to be right in their faith, they needed to have the same culture as the rest of us.

And that debate was going on in the first century. That debate is going on in the 21st century. And at different times in Christianity, it’s been more supported, this inclusiveness and less supported. And we’re living in a time where it’s being less supportive. And we want to remind each other that that’s not the only story that’s available to us. There is one that’s more inclusive.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And the inclusive part of it is like there’s also an institutional practical aspect. Like I’ve known Christians who like what once a year they go to Guatemala and they work in an orphanage. You know, they’re funding an orphanage in Guatemala and they go there once a year. And like, again, people can raise their political objections to the sort of power relationship of that and the way that charity might operate.

But at a person-to-person level, it is eye opening to go to like those institutional connections, people traveling to do mission work or charity work or hosting people from other places or having churches in other parts of the world that they might have a relationship with. When I was reporting on evangelical life a fair amount 20 years ago, that was a very present part of evangelical life.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Haines: And I guess I wonder, like, has that fallen away? Is that still there and it just doesn’t do that same thing a little bit politically? Was I over-interpreting what it was doing back then?

Doug Pagitt: I don’t think you were over-interpreting it. I think you had the benefit of being inside communities that took that seriously. That’s the tradition I come from. I’ve actually spent a lot of time in Guatemala and committed to certain villages there and have been there many times and have helped other people expand their faith by going and meeting people of difference and people of similarity in these places. It’s one of the more wonderful things.

And there has been a movement over the last two decades of people critiquing that. Like, when should we stop exporting Christianity from the places where it has more power into places where there’s susceptibility to people being manipulated? A really important question. And there’s become a more insular version of spirituality and Christianity in America. I’ve been a big part of this whole movement of evangelicals deconstructing their faith and rethinking it and realizing the version of faith they were given is not the only version and they have to get used to it. And there’s whole books about post-evangelicals and ex-evangelicals and all of this.

It’s a big movement. And that’s taken its toll because a lot of people have stopped thinking about their faith as being a motivator in their life for them to do good things. And that shows that there’s been a legacy of loss in evangelicalism. And a lot of it is tied to the fact that the political identities used to have a little bit of flexibility to them. If you were a Democrat, you may not have been encouraged by people, but you weren’t kicked out.

And now the difference between being an evangelical and being a Republican is very hard to see, or being a Democrat and not being involved in your faith is pretty common. So these political forces and cultural forces are very real.

Chris Hayes: There’s a long story to tell here and I’ve done some of the reading on this. I reported going back to sort of the rise of the Christian right and Pat Robertson and, you know, there’s a bunch of different inflection points. There’s Roe, there’s Bob Jones, there’s the Christian Coalition and Ralph Reed. There’s a whole history here of how evangelical Christianity was sort of fused onto conservative social politics and then the instrument of the Republican Party.

But let’s sort of take all that pre-Trump. So that that’s there. And that’s there even when George W. Bush, evangelical supported. But to go back to that 2016 moment, what’s interesting to me is there’s two tendencies that I saw observed in evangelical voters who are skeptical of Trump. One is that a little bit of that sort of cosmopolitanism around their Christian faith, like the immigration stuff wasn’t hitting them the same way it might other folks. They had different views on that.

And the other was just like the personal level of, you know, this is not a faith that like he is so impious. I think about my grandfather wasn’t evangelical, was very devout Catholic and like also really right wing. And it’s not like those two things are opposed. But I just can’t imagine he would have found Trump anything but totally odious in his personal behavior.

And we talked about people just like this, just like he gives me the ick feeling that I got from a lot of evangelical voters who were people who in their private life and in the way they conduct themselves, took seriously the notion of virtue, of Christian virtue. They took seriously the notion of loyalty and fidelity, of honesty, of kindness and good works, of all the things that you would think that honestly, any faith tradition in its best incarnation is urging on its followers, right, to be good to each other, to move through the world with kindness and compassion and grace.

And there are parts of Christian tradition, there are parts of every other tradition, I think, that really cultivate that in people. And it’s just so wild to me like how much he represents the opposite of that and how apparent that was to folks back in that moment. And I would love to hear an account, and Tim Alberta has a book that’s expressly about this, but like your understanding of how that went away, how that got subverted or cannibalized.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, I have thought so much about it. My life right now is oriented around not only understanding that question, but seeking to put in place some factors that will reverse it. And so I remember sitting on my couch on election night in 2016 and feeling like something has changed for me. I cannot keep moving in the evangelical spaces, even though I was in the progressive evangelical spaces and the inclusive evangelical spaces, I could no longer say to myself that that community that was necessary for Donald Trump’s success in the campaign was a different community than me. I couldn’t slice the prosciutto that thin.

I needed to say this is us. My DNA, like all evangelicals, is all over this crime scene and we need to get busy thinking about this and trying to understand it. So the organization that I run called Vote Common Good is a direct response to that. It’s trying to seek an answer to that question. So we’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of time talking with voters. We travel the country, we meet with people, we meet with pastors, we do trainings. We’ve been all over this question. And in some ways, the answer is understandable and is evident. It’s just heartbreaking.?

And it basically boils down to this. Evangelicals came to the conclusion and their leadership and then the rank and file evangelicals to say, we have over-expected from our presidents. We wanted them to be moral like us. And we were outraged when they weren’t. That didn’t get us what we want. And Donald Trump came along and said, vote for me and I’ll give you power. Now, for a lot of us, we recognize a story like that. If you’re familiar with the temptation narratives, like you go into a desert. Some voice comes and says, bow to me and I’ll give you this entire world.

Chris Hayes: I mean, it’s almost beyond parity how closely it mirrors, and for folks that don’t know the New Testament, there’s a famous part of it where Jesus goes into the desert on a kind of retreat and the devil comes to him to tempt him. And he says, if you bend the knee to me, if he takes him up to a hillside and he shows him all this and he basically promises him earthly power and dominion over this entire portion of land, if you bend your knee to me. And Jesus, of course, rejects him. But that’s the temptation. Bend your knee to me and you will get earthly power.

Doug Pagitt: And it’s almost as if people have said Jesus should have considered taking that deal. Maybe things would have gone differently. And, you know, you can hear Jesus saying, what does benefit a person to gain the whole world and lose their very soul? Where Donald Trump, truly the very person who was the point of sermon illustrations of how not to live your life. The example of gaining the whole world and losing your soul. These are very pastors who did this. They said, hey, no more, Mr. Nice guy. We haven’t gotten what we wanted to.

And they believed that Hillary Clinton was a unique threat and Donald Trump was a unique response. All of the evangelicals we’ve talked to said, look, you have to understand the condition that we made this decision within. It was particular. We had no good choice, they told themselves. This is something that we’ve come to realize is not as true as the story that they’re telling themselves. But they said we didn’t have another choice. And what Donald Trump provided was not a person who was like them, but a candidate who said he liked them.

And what I’ve realized with a lot of voters is they don’t want their politician or need their politician to be like them, but they really do want the politician to like them. And it wasn’t clear that Hillary Clinton liked evangelicals. It wasn’t clear that Democrats like evangelicals. But Donald Trump said, I’ll stand side by side with you. I’ll put my arm around you. I will meet with you and tell you that your issues are my issues and I’ll be supporting you. You will have power.

He did again yesterday. He did it again the two days ago in the meeting with the national broadcasters. Big annual meeting, said, if you reelect me, you will again have power. You’re out of power now, but I’ll give it right back to you. And people took that deal. It’s heartbreaking.

Chris Hayes: It’s very transactional. Yeah, I mean --

Doug Pagitt: Absolutely.

Chris Hayes: What’s clear to me is that he clearly thinks that like evangelical, actual evangelicals like Mike Pence are like goofy and cringe and like ridiculous. Like we have reporting to suggest that he finds, you know, all the prayerfulness, like it’s B.S. or it’s weird or creeps him out. He doesn’t like, like he clearly viscerally has precisely the level of like ickiness and contempt that you would imagine a rich, secular New York City real estate developer would have for like. But it’s kind of like --?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But that’s also interesting to me as well. Joe Biden in this context, you know, putting Hillary Clinton aside like he really is a guy, you know, he really is a believer. I mean, he really does pray to God.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: He really does believe Jesus Christ is the redeemer and the son of man. And, you know, obviously in the Catholic and evangelical tradition. But like that’s a guy who’s said his prayers to God before. Donald Trump has never said a prayer in his life. We just know that.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. And he tells you that. He says, no, I don’t ask for forgiveness.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: So inside the evangelical tradition, the story of a conversion is the most important.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: From, you know, we refer to the Apostle Paul. Well, before that, he was called Saul. And then he was walking on the road, persecuting Christians, going to Damascus to do the same and saw the light and changed. And the thing that the evangelical leaders had to do, and they did it in mass, was to now narrate a story by which Donald Trump moves from being the sermon illustration to the great sermon illustration of him being the one who is converted.

So what they’ve done and I’ve heard them say this, leaders like Lance Wallnau and others say these very words in big tent meetings, because we visit a lot of these things, these events run by Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon and others. They’ll say, look, the question is not, is Donald Trump a Christian? The question is, is he God’s chosen man for the job? So what they have done is now introduced a new criteria by which religious voters, especially charismatic evangelicals and Pentecostal evangelicals, would make a decision about how they pick a president.

Is this person chosen by God for a unique function in the world? So no longer is it, is he our kind of faith person. He’s a new baby Christian, they will say. And they’ve narrated an entire story by which Donald Trump is now becoming a new convert to Christianity. Totally not true in my estimation, but I don’t want to doubt anybody’s religious experience.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: I hope Donald Trump will have a faithful spiritual experience. That would be good for him and likely good for all of us. I don’t see it. I don’t see any evidence that that’s happening.

Chris Hayes: I wouldn’t hold my breath.?

Doug Pagitt: Certainly the old biblical about, you know, by the fruits, you’ll know the tree. But they have a story they can tell. And truthfully evangelicals have been looking for a better story than be one portion of a conservative coalition of be the moral majority contingent. But I will also say this, evangelicals are not all the same. There’s at least three big groupings that I like to think about.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: There’s charismatic Pentecostals, there’s Southern Baptist, and then there’s these non-denominational Christians. Magazines go with each of those groups. There’s kind of the Baptist Journal, there’s Charisma Magazine, and there’s Christianity Today. The college you mentioned Wheaton College is kind of the one of the flagships of this non-denominational evangelical group.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: That’s the group I come from actually. That group, its support for Donald Trump was never as high as the others and is waning significantly. And in 2016, Donald Trump received nearly 81% of evangelical support nationwide at the ballot box. That dropped a 72% in 2020. Our group had a lot to do with that. A lot of other groups, we are making the case and helping people to leave. So the support in 2024 will be a real question. Did he peak highest --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.?

Doug Pagitt: -- and now is it on the decline? Now it’s not on the decline among charismatic Pentecostals, but it is lower with Southern Baptist related and Baptist groups and with the non-denominational evangelical groups.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.?

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Chris Hayes: So let’s talk about the work you’re doing. When you say you go to these big, you know, these tent revival meetings and like, what do you? Like what’s vote common do (ph)? Who are you talking to? You set up a little booth with lit? Like what’s your deal??

Doug Pagitt: Well, we do a number of things. We travel the country in a big bus and the big bus will have different messaging on it. Right now the bus that we travel in says, “Faith, hope and love supporting democracy for all.” And then on the back quarter on each side it says, “Confronting Christian nationalism,” and the other side says, “Resisting insurrections.” So what we’re doing is we’re combining phrases that evangelicals know, faith, hope and love.

You know, the greatest of these is love. It’s insider code, but then it says supporting democracies and standing against Christian nationalism and standing against insurrections. So we travel, we hold events. We hold events that are training events. We hold public events. We hold rallies. We also work with democratic candidates, Senate candidates, House, people running for Congress and people running for local and state office because many evangelicals have never met a democratic candidate that they thought they could vote for.

Chris Hayes: Right.?

Doug Pagitt: So we call them exceptional candidates, meaning that they’re a candidate by which a voter will make an exception to vote for the person this time. And that’s all part of behavioral change and cognitive change. We know that certain things just have to be in place for someone to make a change in a habit. And voting is a habit and voting is an identity.

And when you’re going to make an identity and habit change, no matter what it is, like if you decide you want to start playing pickleball or you want to, you know, go to AA or you want to get on Noom and change your eating habits, any of these changes somebody makes certain things just have to be in place. So, we spend a lot of time thinking about that.

So, we’re in the media and we’re in districts where we know it matters. And truthfully because of electoral politics and making sure Donald Trump is not elected president ever again, the whole country doesn’t matter equally. The whole country matters, you know, in most things. But when it comes to who’s going to be elected the next president, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, maybe Nevada are really going to matter.

And in those states, the religious people that we know are going to make the difference are not equally distributed throughout the states. They tend to cluster. It’s so curious how religion is one of the organizing principles for where we choose to live in this country and how we choose to associate with each other. It’s still, after all the secularism and all the other movements that have happened in economy and everything, people still tend to live by people that are like them in a whole lot of ways.

So, we know where these people are. We know what districts they’re in and we’ve seen movement in those districts because you actually have to do this work. You have to invite people into the change you want them to experience. But I’ll be clear, we don’t try to change people’s minds. We try to work with people whose minds have already started to change.

Chris Hayes: So, that’s what I wanted to follow up on. I mean one of the things, I think, when we do political analysis because we do a lot of sort of subgrouping demographically or geographically or college educated versus non-college educated, it gets very easy to like, you start to think there’s like an electoral college winner take all for each section of voter, you know. But it’s not the way it works. Like there’s a big difference between losing evangelicals, you know, 80-20 and losing them 75-25 or 70-30, right. All those are all votes.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And you know, George Goehl, who I’ve had on the program, who’s talking about organizing in some rural areas and among, you know, rural white folks has talked about this, too. You know, if you look at a county and the county’s, you know, it’s got 700 Republican votes and 300 democratic votes, right. Okay, well clearly that’s not close.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But that there are 300 doors to go knock on to start out.?

Doug Pagitt: That’s right.?

Chris Hayes: And go talk. That’s 300 people, right. So --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- I want to talk to you about, give me a profile, talk about who those folks are. The people whose minds have already started a change. Because I do think the dominant story is all of evangelical Christianity has been brought under Donald Trump’s dominion.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: It is increasingly radicalized against American democracy. And clearly I think that is part of the story. But what I’m hearing from you is that same set of changes has created disaffection among some sliver of folks who are feeling now cross-pressured and torn. Tell me about those people.

Doug Pagitt: We knew after 2016 that there were voters who were movable because in 2012, those same people had voted for Barack Obama and then they voted for Donald Trump. So, we knew that Mitt Romney only received 74 percent of evangelical votes and then Trump brought it to the highest level ever at 81 percent.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: And he needed every one of those voters.?

Chris Hayes: He sure do.

Doug Pagitt: Everyone --

Chris Hayes: Yep.

Doug Pagitt: -- to win by the numbers, right. So, we knew that there was that habit and history had told us that people were movable. What actually happened in 2020 was remarkable. Joe Biden received the highest percentage of votes from evangelicals since Jimmy Carter. It was remarkable, the shift away from Donald Trump. And the biggest group that moved away from Donald Trump were white evangelical middle-aged men. That’s the one group that actually moved. All over the country, we have statistics about who should (inaudible).

Chris Hayes: I would not have guessed that.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. And we know it. It’s true, but it also doesn’t fit the story we’re all telling, right??

Chris Hayes: No.

Doug Pagitt: And there’s a lot of reasons we tell that story, partly because it’s just easier to say your crazy white uncle and a lot of us just have crazy white uncles.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: But those are also the people that have said, oh no, we’re not doing this anymore. And there were women who moved, suburban women, but the real group are middle aged white men who tend to vote. And they tend to out-vote the rest of the population, you know and --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- turnout and engagement. So, we know that these are people who are actually moveable and gettable. And when we did some research on what caused them to move, why did people who’ve voted for Donald Trump in 2016 not want to vote for him in 2020.

Chris Hayes: Just so we’re clear, these are evangelical --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- voters who --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- voted for Trump in 2016 and voted for Biden in 2020?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah or at least were not going to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.

Chris Hayes: Right, okay.

Doug Pagitt: Because a lot of people couldn’t quite get to Biden.

Chris Hayes: I see.

Doug Pagitt: A bunch of them did.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: But a lot of them just left it blind.

Chris Hayes: Right, okay. Yeah, good point. Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: And there were so many. We had a program that we called Hindsight 2020 going into the campaign where we asked voters to tell us about what changed. Now in Hindsight, what caused you to not vote the way you are right now, and it was interesting. We did a particular poll asking about Christian virtues. The number one virtue that people said caused them to no longer want to associate with Donald Trump was his lack of kindness.

Because voters tend to find an attachment to the people they vote for not because it reflects on the candidate, but because voters realize it reflects on them. And they didn’t like the idea that they were this unkind. Now that unkindness would come out in very specific ways. Kids in cages, the way he treated women, the way he would treat the press, the way he would treat anybody who used to be in his administration.

All of that stuff when Donald Trump would just throw people away and be so cruel. They said, oh, that’s not the way we teach our children to live. That’s not how we want to live. So, the lack of kindness was a really big deal, which was rather encouraging actually, right?

Chris Hayes: Yeah, yes.

Doug Pagitt: Because if --

Chris Hayes: Absolutely, it’s very encouraging.

Doug Pagitt: I mean especially, you know, you think about the words evangelicals use. A lot of evangelicals love to choose biblical passages from the Old Testament, as we like to call it, you know, from the Jewish scripture. And to say, what does God require of you but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Like kindness and mercy, that’s how evangelical see themselves. You ask an evangelical, tell me about your faith. How does it make you better?

It makes me more kind, you know. So, then they see Donald Trump not being that way. So, we know this is the kind of thing that’s reflecting on the identity of voters. And frankly, if you’re going to get voters to do the right thing, it’s not going to be because they think they’re helping someone else. It’s not even because they think they’re helping themselves. We believe it’s because they believe that it helps them feel better about themselves.

And when we suggest to them that the common good can be your voting identity rather than being Republican or being a Democrat or being fiscally this or that, big government or small government. But you care about the common good, people are like, oh yeah, that I actually care about. And we lack a story in this country about what our politics are supposed to achieve. Like what’s the outcome? And so Donald Trump said, well, it’s that you’re going to have more power.

And people said, okay, we’ll give it a try, and then they didn’t in 2020. Now the real question in 2024 is which way are those people going to move? Are they going to bounce back? Are they going to go home? Are there more people that are going to leave Trump post-indictments? All of his behavior, losing the election and being seen as a loser by so many of these people. And we’re pretty convinced that if the work keeps up and people keep the pressure on, but again, it doesn’t matter what happens in Montana or Minnesota.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: But it does matter what happens in Michigan, right? And you can have huge demographic shifts across the country, but if it doesn’t happen in certain districts, in certain states, you can still end up with an electoral college outcome that wouldn’t be desirable.

So, this is the kind of work we do. And what we end up doing is being in all kinds of conversations with people. We have sat in bars with Proud Boys in 2020 in October. They were protesting our events and shouting at us and threatening us and we engaged. Now, look, we’re not trying to change the minds of Proud Boys --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- in bars in Florida. But you would be surprised by how many people left that saying, the start of this conversation, I thought you were the enemy. And now I realized we’re in this thing together. We have stood on the side of small roads in Eagle Pass, Texas and in Florida and in Arizona and in Michigan where protestors are yelling at each other across a road, Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other.

And what I hear from people on both sides of those streets because we tend to move back and forth and interview people and just talk to everybody we can because of what we do. They will say things like this. Those people over there, I don’t know who they are. I don’t recognize them. And these are people that live like in their same town, you know, but they’re saying I don’t recognize them.

And then, they basically say something like, I’m not sure if they hate me or want to hurt me, but I know I don’t trust them. And that’s something that every tradition, religiously, needs to ask itself, do we have a role to play to help make sure that when we look across the street at our neighbor, we have options other than they want to hurt me and they hate me??

And that’s something we think is compelling to people. So, the kind of voters that we know are moving actually care about how the country is doing. But to be clear, 75 percent of evangelicals, 70 percent of them are like, no, I just actually care about winning.

Chris Hayes: Right?

Doug Pagitt: That’s heartbreaking. But if that number’s not 81 percent --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- we’re going to count that as a win.

Chris Hayes: That’s such an important perspective to stay with here. You just said Eagle Pass, which is on the border in Texas. Can you talk a little bit about the politics of immigration here? Because this is a place where my own Catholic upbringing and tradition, I think, colors the way that I see this. Because the Catholic church has been staunchly pro-immigrant and that has to do for theological reasons and also cultural and institutional reasons. The Catholic Church was basically started in the U.S. by immigrants. It grew particularly --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- among Irish immigrants who were, you know, persecuted and sort of marginalized and also the subject of a lot of anti-immigrant hatred. It’s in the DNA of the American Catholic Church to be —

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- pastoring to immigrants. And that’s been the case, and the position it takes is to protect them and to --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- be there for them, both on the ground and politically. Where do you see evangelical voters on this question, which Donald Trump views as the key to his reelection.?

Doug Pagitt: Yes.

Chris Hayes: It’s the top salience issue. When you go down to Eagle Pass, when you’re at the border, like how are you viewing this through that prism?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. Evangelicals feel that immigration is the one place that they don’t agree with the Republican Party.

Chris Hayes: Really?

Doug Pagitt: Overwhelmingly, yes. They might say, we need to have better border security, this kind of language. But the way immigrants are talked about, the way that current Republicans, especially Donald Trump, slander immigrants, tell lies about them, they know that’s not true. They’ve had history. They know people now. They’re like, no, immigrants are really good for America. This is just across the board with evangelicals. They think we need to manage our border differently.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: So, they’re there on that, which I have a lot of thoughts about, because they actually don’t know what’s going on and what’s happening and how the border is managed. But they don’t like the way the current Republican opinion is framed toward immigrants. And they even tell themselves, no, that’s not really what they think.

So just two weeks ago I was in Eagle Pass and Eagle Pass, Texas is a place that became the center of the political and immigration conversation over the last few weeks. There’s a big trucker brigade was going to go down there and put these truckers on the border and try to protect the border and all this. And Governor Abbott of Texas has made Eagle Pass the center of his aggression against immigrants and so on, have taken over a park there.?

So, we were in Eagle Pass and we’ve spent time there before. And we are talking with people about why they’re here and how they understand it. I talked to a couple from Middle Texas that had driven out for this day to be a part of this thing. And we’re in right, you know, 150 yards from the river. And they said, why do the people in town here think that we hate immigrants? They said to me. And I said, well, I think it’s because of the kind of things Donald Trump says about them.

And this man said, well, what does he say about immigrants? And I said, well, he just recently said that they’re polluting the blood of America, the bloodstream of America. And he said, oh, he didn’t say that. And I said, well he did. And he said, well, you have a phone in your pocket, show me where he said it. So, I pulled up an article and said, here’s the quote. And he goes, well, that’s just a quote. That’s somebody saying that he said it. That’s not him saying --

Chris Hayes: Wow, this is fascinating. He really did not want to believe that Donald Trump said that.?

Doug Pagitt: So much so, so then I said, okay, give me a minute. And I clicked on the link and it went to the video and I showed him the video, and he watches it where Donald Trump says it. And then he said, well, he only said that once and that might not have been what he meant. So this man, I could say he’s a hypocrite, he’s in denial, he’s caught in cognitive dissidence or he doesn’t believe that about immigrants.

Chris Hayes: Right. This is a much better response than hell yes, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Doug Pagitt: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And we should purge --

Doug Pagitt: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- every one. Yeah, that’s a much better response, yes.

Doug Pagitt: This is a guy who’s saying, no. He didn’t say that. And if he said it, he didn’t mean it. And if he meant it, he won’t mean it tomorrow because he doesn’t want it to be true. So, I take that as, okay, this is what’s true among these evangelicals. And I recognize this guy and I understand where he is coming from.?

He doesn’t want the one that he thinks is on his side to be saying things that are not on his side. So, he’s now coming to this realization, so this is where immigrants are. In 2021, we recognized that immigration was going to be the issues Republicans were going to use. Not because we are future tellers but because Republicans told everyone, this is going to be the issue that --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- we’re going to run on.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: And we begged Democrats and we begged the Biden administration to please make this something you care about. We do all these conversations with candidates that we work with and all the rest of this. We’ll ask them about immigration and they don’t want to talk about it, overwhelmingly --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- don’t want to talk about it. Clearly --

Chris Hayes: It’s a real problem.

Doug Pagitt: -- this administration doesn’t want to talk about it. So, one of the things we did is we put together a bike ride in 2021, and we rode bicycles from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida, along the U.S.-Mexico border, every mile of it and the U.S. Coast, a cross-country bike ride. I got to ride all 3,250 miles --?

Chris Hayes: That’s so cool.

Doug Pagitt: -- miles of it. And we went into border town --

Chris Hayes: I would love to do that.

Doug Pagitt: -- after border town. Please do it with us. We’re going to do it again. It was so great. I mean first of all the fact that you can ride a bicycle --

Chris Hayes: Yeah, that’s wild.

Doug Pagitt: -- from San Diego to Florida on almost always a paved road. I mean Texas paved roads are not the greatest roads --

Chris Hayes: Right.?

Doug Pagitt: -- but the fact that we have an infrastructure that allows someone to do that, nearly always within miles or eyesight of the border. And we moved in and out of border towns and interviewed border patrol. And we interviewed refugees and we stayed in refugee camps and people in their towns. And the story you get along the border is remarkable. It’s a beautiful part of this country. And people don’t believe you when you tell them what’s actually going on in border towns.

They don’t tell you about how safe it is. They don’t tell you about how much people love living there. They don’t tell you about the migrants who are trying to come into the country legally. And the primary question that evangelicals ask all the time is, but why don’t they come legally??

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Doug Pagitt: And the question we asked evangelicals every day is why don’t they come legally? That’s our question.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: The answer is because there is not a legal way to come.

Chris Hayes: That’s right.

Doug Pagitt: There are not visas that are allowed for people to get. If they’re asylum seekers only from certain countries, there is not. And when people hear say that, maybe someone is going to listen to this right now, they will just say, oh, that’s not true. There is a way. Nope, there’s not.

Chris Hayes: There’s just not.

Doug Pagitt: I can go into Mexico. I’m going to do it on Saturday. And then in a few weeks, I’m actually going to go on vacation to Mexico. I’m going to fly in. I’m going to fly out and they’re just going to say, thanks for coming. If someone from Mexico or Guatemala or Honduras wants to come to the United States, they can’t.

Chris Hayes: Nope.?

Doug Pagitt: And if you want to do it legally, you’re going to wait 25 years. And so the stories that we’ve heard and we’re making a documentary about all of this, so you can hear these stories. When you hear a dad from Honduras say that his daughter, who’s 19, needs a surgery and if he could get to California and work with his brother-in-law, he could earn money in nine months that would pay for his daughter’s surgery.

And he nearly died in the desert and was picked up by border patrol and put back into Nogales, Mexico, and that’s where we met him. And the next day he was going to cross the border again. And he looks at me with tears in his eyes and he says, I can’t tell my daughter that she can’t have a surgery because the United States can’t figure out how to have a worker program.

You say to yourself, that’s a guy I want to hire. And the other ironic thing in all this, Chris, is so many of these people are evangelicals and Catholics. They’re more into the very faith of the very evangelicals that know that this is true. So, these are the real life stories that people are just conflicted by. And this is a winning issue for Democrats, if they could ever say something more than what we’re saying right now about it.

Chris Hayes: Well, what I think they have to do, and I’ve been trying to find ways to talk about this on the show, is you can’t ignore the border because it has been successfully turned into a kind of totem. So, you can’t ignore it. You have to talk about it. And I think you also have to say as a national interest and as a nation, we have a right to have an orderly system at the border.

Doug Pagitt: Absolutely.

Chris Hayes: We have to have order. And there has to be a means by which we could orderly in a controlled and regulated fashion --?

Doug Pagitt: Yep.

Chris Hayes: -- control. I think that’s a legitimate thing and you have to concede that up top. It’s not racist to want that. Then you have to say, the next part, which is your part, which is immigration is good for us. It’s been good for who we are. It’s not just feel good-good, but it’s actually tangibly good. And also, we need to figure out a way to how can we make it so these people can come legally, if they want to come.

Doug Pagitt: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And we can control. And I’ve had that same encounter with people. Why don’t they come legally? They literally can’t. No, that can’t be true

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: No, believe me, it’s totally true.

Doug Pagitt: And it is orderly. I mean, I’ve been to nearly every border crossing there. When it’s not orderly it’s because the cartels in Mexico that control the immigration choose to make different portions of the border --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: -- appear unorderly.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: Almost everywhere else, it’s orderly. You go back to Eagle Pass now, completely orderly, hardly anyone crossing Del Rio where two years ago, you know, when the pictures that people have in their mind of a border patrol person on a horse with a whip.

Chris Hayes: Yep.

Doug Pagitt: I talk to other people that we work with there that process these asylum seekers, all as like nonprofit, religious groups, by the way that --

Chris Hayes: Right, yes.

Doug Pagitt: -- do all the processing of this.

Chris Hayes: Totally, all nonprofit.

Doug Pagitt: And they say, it’s been totally quiet here for six months.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: Totally orderly. So, all of these stories that we’re told, and there’s no reason someone shouldn’t believe what they’re being told because trustworthy people tell them and news people keep showing us the one place. I mean, I rode the entire border. It’s a long way.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, right.

Doug Pagitt: There’s a lot of border crossings.

Chris Hayes: Totally.

Doug Pagitt: Ninety-nine percent of them --

Chris Hayes: Correct.

Doug Pagitt: -- are totally orderly.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: And when they’re not, there’s a reason that they’re not. And when the U.S. plays into the story that the cartels want us to tell about the border, we should double check the motivations for why they’re choosing to make portions of the border appear unorderly.

Chris Hayes: We’ll be right back after we take this quick break.

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Chris Hayes: I want to talk about another issue that is also top salience, which is abortion. So, abortion is really interesting to me for a bunch of reasons. One is people don’t really know this, but if you go back and you look at the history of this, the Catholic Church has always had its position on abortion. It had a particular theological tradition about sex reproduction, the sanctity of life together.

That has not always been the tradition of Protestant Christianity or evangelicalism. And in fact, the Catholic Church was sort of always had this position. And basically one way of thinking about it is that Catholic sexual ethics have taken over American evangelicalism --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- in a fascinating way. I mean in a way that you wouldn’t predict. I mean it’d be like in 20 years from now, if pastors had to be celibate and that was just like part of what Protestant was. You can’t be married if you’re a pastor and be like, what? No, what are you --

Doug Pagitt: Right.

Chris Hayes: -- talking about? You can’t be married if you’re a pastor. That’s not our thing.?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And so --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.?

Chris Hayes: -- but that’s what’s happened with abortion. One of the things you’re seeing now, I think, is really interesting is with IVF, where we’re now up against the boundary of this vision of the embryo as a full human being. You know, I don’t think evangelicals have opposition to IVF. There’s not a theological tradition of opposition. The Catholic Church is opposed to it as a theological --

Doug Pagitt: Yes.

Chris Hayes: -- matter, you know. They do not believe it’s correct and morally defensible. How do you see the post-Dobbs abortion issue playing among evangelicals right now?

Doug Pagitt: It’s a big deal for people. And most evangelicals always believe that there would be exceptions for when abortion would be legitimate. Now there’s a hardcore group that feel there should be no exceptions and --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- all the rest. But most people felt like, hey, this should be reasonable. And the term late-term abortion and abortion becomes synonymous in the conversation. I just happened to come across a clip from George Bush back in 2000 during the campaign saying, hey, I’m pro-life and we should stop late-term abortions, right. That was code for this --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: -- thing that Donald Trump then said in the debate with Hillary Clinton that doctors are choosing whether a baby should live or die on the birthing table. This kind of nonsense is just fundamentally untrue, but it stand in for most evangelicals, abortion is. It stand in for your people who care about the most vulnerable. So when people yell at us at events and they do it regularly, what about the babies? What they’re meaning is, what about the most vulnerable? Do you care about the most vulnerable? So, there’s an impulse there, right.

And they don’t mean programmatically and they also don’t use this as their only issue. When I talk to people for whom they say, abortion is the number one reason I never vote for a Democrat. I will say things like, hey, if Joe Biden were to wake up tomorrow and say, the Mother Mary visited me overnight and I’ve had an epiphany and I’ve changed my mind and I’m changing my view on abortion, I’m going to move my party. I’m going to do I can to move our party, change their (ph) view on abortion, then would you consider voting for him? I mean I’ve asked this to hundreds of people and they will all say, no.

Chris Hayes: No, of course not.

Doug Pagitt: Because then I would talk about --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: -- taxes or --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: -- other things. So, I can say, so can we then just agree that this is one of your issues and it’s a stand-in? And why does abortion matter to you? And when you say, why does it matter? These are not people who are working in pregnancy clinics and working with helping people adopt. And our family has adopted two kids. Like we have four children and two of them are adopted. Like we get this, you know. And we did natural family planning, which is how we ended up with our first two kids.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: You know, they talked to us at a Catholic Church. Like we really get it. I’m in that segment. And many people, they’ve never adopted. They’ve never worked with anyone. But it’s a way that they’ve told themselves I’m on the side of caring for the most vulnerable. So if we can begin with helping people say, that’s a good impulse. And look, I know this is hard because for a lot of people before Dobbs, when abortion was legal and Republicans wanted it to be illegal, they said, I know it’s the law, but it’s what’s morally right to change it.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: But then you come to guns and everything gets inverted. So, then you have Democrats saying things like, I know guns are legal but it’s immoral for us to treat them the way that we do.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: And then it comes to abortion and they switch --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: -- sides.

Chris Hayes: That’s interesting.

Doug Pagitt: And so now you have these two arguments, both of which matter, guns and abortion. And the two groups are on different sides for why they’re arguing about it. And that tells us all something that if we’re going to throw around the hypocrite words or --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- how we based our arguments. Now what’s happened to post-Dobbs is that world isn’t so clear to people anymore.

Chris Hayes: No, that’s absolutely --

Doug Pagitt: And now they’re like, oh boy, now I don’t know what to do.?

Chris Hayes: That’s my question because to go back to one of the things you said, I think when you say, you know, we were supporting, you know, people we thought were godly and that didn’t work out for us. I mean, one of the main things here, right, is that election after election, decade after decade, one of the biggest issues for the Christian right and for evangelical voters was abortion and nothing came of it in tangible terms. And then, Donald Trump, you know, chosen by God for this earthly purpose delivers --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- the Supreme Court that does it finally, you know, after 50 years. But there’s two ways to think about that with the evangelical voters. One is, well, now either that’s done or it’s less salient or actually I don’t actually love the results of this.?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Or he has my vote for life because he delivered the --

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- thing that no one else could. And I’ve heard a lot of that and I wonder, just those voters that are in that space that you’re talking about, the 7 percent, right.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: How do you think abortion plays in their minds?

?Doug Pagitt: These are the people, the 7 percent, the movables, the people that say, I want to separate my Republican identity from my religious identity. They’re people for whom abortion is not the top issue for them.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: They’re people who’ve said, look, I think we’re gonna end up with laws on this that are either gonna be consistent or not perfect, and we have to figure it out.?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Doug Pagitt: It’s not the thing that’s most important. If someone says, abortion is my number one issue, whether they’re a Democrat making that argument or Republican --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- then they’ve decided that that’s the only issue on which they’re gonna move.

Chris Hayes: And I should say that they’re rational on that. Like there are places where the two parties are, you know, they’re closer than they look sometimes on certain things --

Doug Pagitt: Yep.

Chris Hayes: -- on foreign policy and some things on political kind. There are other places where like, it just really is stark. Like if you want to outlaw abortion and criminalize it, you should vote for the Republican party 100 percent. And if you it to be accessible --

Doug Pagitt: Yep.

Chris Hayes: -- everyone is rational if they’re making those decisions.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah. And look, most of us we don’t have the luxury of handcrafting our politicians --

Chris Hayes: No.

Doug Pagitt: -- or what political party we’re gonna vote for. It’s similar to buying a car. And there’s this old scene from the show, “The Office” where one of the characters on there said, uh, yeah, I kind of bought the car for the cup holders. I liked where the cup holder was, right. So, a lot of people end up picking --

Chris Hayes: That’s a great --

Doug Pagitt: -- a candidate.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Doug Pagitt: -- about an issue that is not even the one that --

?Chris Hayes: Yeah.?

Doug Pagitt: -- the candidate talks about.

Chris Hayes: It’s a great point.

Doug Pagitt: And a lot of it has to do when you actually ask voters, it’s how do you feel about yourself when you voted for that person? Because human beings we all, you know, we tend to see ourselves as the hero in the story. In fact, we have a hero-villain victim narrative in this country that doesn’t serve us very well. We’re almost always the hero, occasionally the victim, never the villain.?

Now, I don’t think hero, villain, victim even captures the reality of what it means to be human being, living on this planet. We’re actually co-sojourners trying to make our way. But when you’re put somebody in a category of hero, villain or victim, well, you’re gonna be the hero or maybe you were struggling. And the victim-hero is just the best, right? Then you really have the win.

So, people are gonna find a way for themselves to be the hero. And voting actually is about self-identity and how you view yourself. And so if you can give people a criterium by which they can still do the right thing, we have this little saying where with these Republicans, we say, hey, you’re still you even if you vote blue. It’s okay, you know.

You’re not giving up anything. It’s all right. You can make this exception this one time and you don’t have to feel like you’ve lost the essence of who you are. I mean it’s just voting after all, right. For a lot of people, they’re like, okay, let me pull back from somehow I’m gonna stand before God and have to explain --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: -- why I voted for a Democrat or whatever.

Chris Hayes: Doug Pagitt is the Executive Director of Vote Common Good. He’s an author and pastor. Doug, that was a great conversation. Thank you so much.

Doug Pagitt: Such a joy. Thank you.

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to Doug Pagitt. I thought that was a fascinating and encouraging conversation. Really actually lifted my spirits. You can get in touch with us. I’d love to hear what you thought of that conversation, and particularly if you’re someone who considers themselves a Christian, Evangelical Christian, particularly I’d love to hear your contribution to this, what you made of that conversation.

?You can get in touch using the #WITHpod. You can follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod. I’m actually posting some stuff on TikTok as well under chrislhayes, so you can look and check that out. You can follow me at Threads and on Bluesky and on Twitter or X and TikTok. All of them, chrislhayes, Instagram as well. That’s where you will find me. How many platforms are we on these days? How many more? I don’t know.

?“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News. Produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia. Engineered by Bob Mallory and featuring music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and featuring music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to NBCNews.com/whyisthishappening?


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