Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman and national GOP staffer Chad Connelly is considering a run for Congress to fill the seat of South Carolina 5th District Congressman Mick Mulvaney. The Newberry County native told South Carolina Radio Network he is talking about it with his family over the holidays.
The decision, however, would require he leave his post as the Republican National Committee’s first National Director of Faith Engagement, a role that he says, “was a key” in the election of Donald Trump as president.
“We set a record for evangelical turnout, the highest ever,” Connelly said. “And I know that a lot of it was the message and the candidate but I really believe there’s been a lot of groups–and of course our efforts being out there and talking to pastors and faith leaders about the importance of engaging.”
Connelly has held the RNC post for three and a half years. He recently spoke with South Carolina Radio Network about his time in national politics and his possible interest in a run for Congress.
SCRN: He was not a traditional evangelical candidate. Did you have any issues in trying to convince evangelicals to listen to Trump?
Connelly: The truth of the matter was, there was such a feeling of Hillary was a real problem. I had more pastors tell me something on the order of ‘I am not exactly sure of what I get with your candidate, but I’m terrified of what I get with the other side’s candidate.” There was some of that, where people heard what Hillary Clinton had said in regard to religious freedom and life issues, marriage, even debt and taxation, and the way the Democrat Party is now treating Israel by and large… it was all over the country and a lot of them just really brought it down to the Supreme Court: ‘Hey I’d rather have conservatives who are advising Donald Trump pick the next Supreme Court justices than Hillary Clinton.”
Connelly says that, when he took the job, he told RNC Chairman Reince Preibus that he was not going to back a certain candidate. He then visited Christian voters in 40 states, including 25 in 2016 alone.
“I was talking that there is a Biblical obligation to vote and a Biblical obligation to be informed and vote for the person that most represents your values…you may not get the candidate you want at local, state and national or whatever. But, if people who are sitting in churches are informed, they are going to vote our way most of the time.”
SCRN: How did you respond to questions about your role and the separation of church and state?
Connelly: “I did get a lot of questions about, “Is this legal?” I would tell pastors if there is no First Amendment freedom of speech in the pulpit, then there is no freedom of speech anywhere else either…I had to overcome some of the legal hurdles and really a large misinformation that I think some folks have foisted on some pastors. Frankly some denominations hide behind that whole thing, [by saying] ‘well, we cannot talk about politics.’
I would steer them toward whether this is political or is it spiritual. Show me in the Bible where we are to be salt and light everywhere except politics, that’s just not true. We are commanded, we are instructed, we have an obligation to engage in the arena. Salt can only be tasted when there is something that lacks salt.”
SCRN: There is stress between Trump and the Muslim community as a faith community. How do you handle that?
Connelly: “They came to me, Muslim Republican Groups, Jewish Republican groups. When I was in D.C. or out in different organizations, I would run into people from every walk of life you can name. I had those discussions. They were quick to denounce terrorism, they did not like being fit into a mould. I obviously set up some of those meetings with people in leadership and people in Republican leadership around the country as well.”
SCRN: Mr. Trump is drawing pretty heavily on pro-Israel appointments and today there is also a tension about where and how the we do diplomacy over there. In your role, what is your take on that?
Connelly: “I’ve always been heavily involved in pro-Israel groups and I think most of the folks I’m around, certainly the pastors, are very excited to see his appointments and our (GOP) platform called for moving the capital to Jerusalem.
Connelly says he is in discussion about the future of this job with Preibus, who will become President-elect Trump’s chief of staff.
“The public has spoken. They believe in conservative ideals and want to move our nation back to conservative principles and I feel certain that Reince wants me to stay there and expand it or –if I run–find somebody to replace me.”