One reason Electoral College members are turning against Trump: Faith

“As a person of faith…I can choose a good candidate, or even a great candidate.”

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

Christopher Suprun, a Republican member of the Electoral College, made headlines last week for penning a scathing New York Times op-ed in which he announced plans to vote for someone other than Donald Trump — a decision he says is motivated in large part by his religious beliefs.

A so-called “faithless elector” within America’s unusual two-tiered voting system, Suprun’s announcement offers a glimmer of hope for Trump’s stalwart opponents. Like many Electors, his home state of Texas allows Suprun to cast a ballot for someone other than the GOP candidate on December 19, when he and the other 537 members of the Electoral College are slated to vote.

Suprun is no fan of Hillary Clinton — but cannot abide Trump, whom he says is unfit for office.

“Given [Trump’s] own public statements, it isn’t clear how the Electoral College can ignore these issues, and so it should reject him,” he writes. Suprun goes on to detail what he says are Trump’s many less-than-presidential qualities, such as his lack of foreign policy experience, his tendency to encourage violence against protesters at rallies, and his choice of controversial advisers such as Stephen Bannon. Rather than side with “The Donald,” Suprun hinted he will vote for a moderate Republican such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead.

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In an interview with ThinkProgress, the Dallas-based Elector noted that the term “faithless elector” is a touch ironic, as his op-ed left out a key factor influencing him and other Electors who oppose the business mogul: faith.

“As a person of faith … and since I don’t have to choose one or the other, I can choose a good candidate, or even a great candidate.”

“I’m Roman Catholic,” said Suprun, who — in addition to being a paramedic and a former firefighter — is also a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. When asked whether his faith influenced his decision to reject Trump, he was unequivocal: “Of course.”

He said his theological framework for voting comes from a lengthy document on “faithful citizenship” published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which outlines how Catholics can be good citizens.

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“They say there are certain non-negotiables, such as abortion…But when you come to a decision when you have to choose to between two bad choices,” he said. “It is allowable to choose the lesser of two evils.”

“As a person of faith — or as a person I hope informed by my faith — and since I don’t have to choose one or the other [as an Elector], I can choose a good candidate, or even a great candidate,” he said.

Suprun said his engagement with the “two evils” question — namely, being unhappy with both Clinton and Trump — began as early as March, when his priest asked him to lead a conversation about the election with his parish. He said many of his fellow worshippers were hesitant to cast a ballot for the adamantly pro-choice Clinton, as they were opposed to abortion on religious grounds. But many remained unsure if they could support her likely opponent Trump; after all, the former reality television star has an uneven history on abortion, became embroiled in a very public feud with Pope Francis himself, and his performance at the Al Smith Dinner—a Catholic gathering—was widely panned.

When asked if he’s chosen a specific candidate instead of Clinton or Trump, Suprun demurred.

“I have not decided, but for me it’s going to be someone who has a little bit longer track record on cloning and abortion,” he said. “Mr. Trump took, like, five different positions on abortion in five days during the campaign.”

“I have not decided [who I will vote for], but for me it’s going to be someone who has a little bit longer track record on cloning and abortion.”

Suprun’s faith-rooted opposition to Trump comes on the heels of another anti-Trump Texas Elector, Art Sisernos, who also cited his Christianity as reason to step down as a member of the Electoral College. Sisernos described in a lengthy blog post that he could not support Trump because doing so would “bring dishonor to God,” but that he could not break his pledge to the Texas GOP to vote for the Republican candidate.

“The best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector,” he said.

Suprun said he spoke with Sisernos about his decision, and doesn’t begrudge his choice to step down and let someone else vote for Trump. But Suprun does not share his fellow Elector’s hesitance to break a pledge to the GOP.

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“I do have misgivings about having to break that pledge, but when I weigh that against [letting someone else vote for Trump], I’m still voting for evil,” he said. “I’m better off breaking the pledge, it’s hard to intellectually support [a pledge] given that Trump said he wouldn’t support the GOP nominee earlier this year.”

Other members of the Electoral College could also be swayed by their religious beliefs. A number of Electors are Mormons, for instance, a tradition that has been deeply ambivalent about Trump. The one and only time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — the main institution of Mormonism — weighed in on the 2016 presidential election was to condemn Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration. Moreover, LDS members revere the U.S. Constitution as “divinely inspired,” and many among their ranks — including Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — see a Trump presidency as a direct affront to America’s founding document.

Indeed, according to Suprun, several other Electoral College members have expressed similar misgivings since reading his op-ed. He has since joined up with nine Democrats to form the so-called “Hamilton Electors,” a band of people who are rallying other Electors to cast their ballot for a moderate Republican instead of Trump.

“I’ve had a number of different Electors reach out to me. I’m working to get others convinced. I think for a number of secular reasons Donald Trump is a hard sell.”

“I’ve had a number of different Electors reach out to me,” he said. “I’m working to get others convinced. I think for a number of secular reasons Donald Trump is a hard sell.”

Still, many religious Americans backed Trump anyway in November. Although Trump’s margin in Mormon-heavy Utah was far lower than most Republican presidential candidates, he still won the state. And while many conservative Christian leaders begged their flocks to vote for a third party, roughly 80 percent of white evangelicals still backed the GOP nominee on Election Day.

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Meanwhile, many Electoral College members—Mormon or otherwise—are legally required to back whomever won the popular vote in their state. Many legal scholars believe such laws are unconstitutional, and two Electors in Colorado are currently suing to eliminate them. But most Electors remain hesitant to challenge local laws, and at least one unbound Mormon Elector — LDS bishop Layne Bangerter of Idaho — recently declared his support for Trump on “religious liberty” grounds.

“While the candidacy of Donald Trump might have pushed some Mormons to pause their support; the fact remains that he, along with Mike Pence, is the only valid candidate who will fight for our religious freedoms and uphold The Constitution,” Bangerter writes.

Suprun made clear that his efforts to defeat Trump will only last until December 19.

“If I am not successful, you will not see me tweeting #NotMyPresident,” he said. He then quoted Mark 12:17: “Christ was very clear: render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s.”

But in the meantime, Suprun plans to stand firm in his opposition to the GOP nominee, a position he said he has been deeply criticized for. Here, too, faith plays a role: he said his beliefs — along with the support of his wife and family — helps him brush off the avalanche of hate mail he has received since going public with his position.

“In terms of faith, I go home, I’ve got an amazing wife and family,” he said. “I don’t want to get in trouble with my parish priest, but I’m going to anyway: Jesus had Peter, and he founds the church on him. And Chris has his wife Dianne — she’s my rock.”