Evangelical Leader Franklin Graham Quits the GOP Over Planned Parenthood Funding

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Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, addresses the crowd at the Festival of Hope rally in 2011. Graham has supported Donald Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, but recently he announced his intention to leave the party. Allison Shelley/REUTERS

With political outsider Donald Trump leading in the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination, there’s been a lot of talk recently about the splintering of the Republican party, as well as rumors about plans for a brokered convention. At this point, the notion that the party establishment wants someone else to be the nominee seems like a poorly kept secret.

Enter evangelical church leader and prominent conservative activist Franklin Graham. Well—exit, actually, as Graham recently announced that he is exiting the Republican party out of anger over the new federal budget passed by Congress.

Graham cited both wasteful spending and the continued funding of Planned Parenthood as his main reasons for losing faith in the party.

“Seeing and hearing Planned Parenthood talk nonchalantly about selling baby parts from aborted fetuses with utter disregard for human life is reminiscent of Joseph Mengele and the Nazi concentration camps,” Graham wrote on Facebook. In the post, he also announced his defection from the GOP and mused on his disenchantment with the entire political system.

“Shame on the Republicans and the Democrats for passing such a wasteful spending bill last week,” he said.

Graham has been a famous conservative firebrand since at least 2003, when he supported the invasion of Iraq. The son of Billy Graham, he is involved with missionary work overseas through evangelical organization Samaritan’s Purse. He has criticized Islam and spoke out in support of Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Graham’s decision to apostatize from the GOP is symbolic of a particular dynamic unfolding in conservative America. It’s been much written about in the media that Americans are widely dissatisfied with the federal government. Meanwhile, the influence of the Tea Party in national politics after a meteoric rise during the 2010 midterm elections is so pervasive that a small group of Freedom Caucus representatives in the House ousted speaker John Boehner this year.

Of course, it’s evident even from watching the recent presidential debates that those conservatives who are fed up with the current system are mostly upset with the Republican establishment’s methodology, rather than its ideology. Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump and other GOP candidates have all criticized establishment Republicans for lacking backbone, conviction, shrewdness and a willingness to fight for their conservative values. Breitbart, the far right media outlet, has been lamenting freshly minted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s budget deal with stories about how he “gave away the store,” Sarah Palin has commented to a similar effect.

It’s not that prominent Republicans like RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Boehner and Ryan don’t want to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s that they can’t. After all, the president is a Democrat and has veto power. For Graham and many others, this is just not an acceptable performance from the party’s leaders.

The evangelist’s display of anger probably doesn’t move the electoral needle, but it could be indicative of events to come. There are many potential voters who share his appraisal of the situation. If Trump loses the primary and a more establishment-backed candidate like Marco Rubio wins, could anger lead to low voter turnout among Republicans? It’s also still a possibility that Trump will change his mind and decide to run as an independent.

The GOP is in a transitional period right now. Announcing that he would not seek the speakership, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy said he thought things needed to hit “rock bottom” before the party started functioning again. 

The disaffection of people like Graham is indicative of frustration within the party’s base—and that doesn’t bode well for the GOP in future presidential elections.