Donald Trump’s appeal to evangelicals is by now well known. From his warm reception at Liberty University, “Two Corinthians” and all, to his now-frequent mentions of his great relationship with God and his great relationship with evangelicals.
Now evangelicals, of course, will vote for whom they are going to vote, and each of those who vote for Trump will have his own reasons for doing so. And they have every right to vote for the man they think America needs as a president.
I took calls yesterday on my radio program from evangelicals who support Trump, and gave them opportunity to explain why. They communicated a great deal of enthusiasm for Trump, for being bold, for being someone who will protect America’s security, get a handle on illegal immigration, and return America to its former greatness.
One caller perceptively reminded us that Donald Trump, who is actually older than Hillary (69-67) grew up at a time when America was what he wants it to be again. America was strong and powerful, the most widely respected, admired, and feared nation in the world. He had a taste of America’s greatness, liked the taste, and wants every American today to have the same privilege.
But it’s also incumbent that evangelicals vote with their eyes wide open. Part of Trump’s appeal is that he is perceived as the consummate outsider: he’s not a politician and because of his wealth, he can’t be bought. A number of my callers cited those two things as explanations for their Trumpo-philia.
Part of the agitation in this election cycle on the part of evangelicals is that we are looking for someone to take on the GOP establishment. Over and over again we send politicians to Washington because they promise us they will go back to D.C. and put a stop to all this nonsense, cut back on the out-of-control spending, and cut off the authoritarian tentacles coming from Washington and strangling liberty in their grip.
But once these newly elected crusaders cross the Potomac, some virus invades their system and they rapidly become Republican Pod People, just like almost every other politician who has preceded them.
Part of Trump’s appeal is that a lot of evangelicals think he will be that outsider who will take on the establishment and bring them to heel. They are highly likely to be sadly, deeply, and grievously disappointed.
It’s becoming increasingly clear by the day that Donald Trump is not only buddies with the establishment, he IS the establishment. He’s done deals with political insiders his entire business career, and openly brags about how he has purchased their access and their support. This is hardly the voice of an outsider.
He has criticized Cruz as a guy who does not know how to make a deal. You gotta have somebody, says Trump, who knows the art of the deal, who knows how to get people in a room, have a few drinks, tell each other a few jokes, share a good meal, slap each other on the back, and hammer out a deal that makes everybody happy. (Except, of course, for the folks back home who have to foot the bill for the deal.) I can do that, he says, Cruz can’t.
But if we’re looking for “leaders” who know how to cross the aisle, get in a backroom and make a deal, we already have that. That’s exactly why we are in the desperate situation we’re in. I have had crossing-the-aisle deals up to here. I want someone who will stand athwart Washington and yell “Stop” at the top of his lungs.
Cruz has the reputation he does because he has bucked that ruling class system. Trump is harshly critical of Cruz (“a very nasty guy” whom “nobody likes”) because he has actually done what evangelical conservatives claim they want.
Here are some excerpts from today’s Washington Post, making Trump’s insider credentials abundantly clear (emphasis mine).
The Republican establishment — once seen as the force that would destroy Donald Trump’s outsider candidacy — is now learning to live with it, with some elected and unelected leaders saying they see an upside to Trump as the nominee.
In the past few days, Trump has received unlikely public praise from GOP luminaries who said they would prefer him to his main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
In private, some veteran conservative Republicans have been reaching out to Trump. And Trump himself called the ultimate establishment figure in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for a talk late last year.
“If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I’d vote for Trump,” said former New York mayor and 2008 presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has not endorsed a candidate. “As a party, we’d have a better chance of winning with him, and I think a lot of Republicans look at it that way...”
Ted Cruz has been at odds with the Republican party establishment for most of his time as a senator – and that doesn't look likely to change soon. Many have decided that Trump — for all his faults — is better. For one thing, many Republicans in Congress especially despise Cruz, who has a history of picking long-shot fights and blaming other Republicans when he is unsuccessful.
Beyond that personal hostility, there’s a political calculation. If Cruz is nominated, they say, he could alienate swing voters with his brand of scorched-earth conservatism. If he’s elected, they fear, Cruz would shut Republican moderates out of power (N.B.: I thought that was the whole idea).
Perhaps most notably, parts of the establishment are starting to think Trump can win. “Between Trump and Cruz, it’s not even close,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a longtime House moderate who has not endorsed a candidate. “Cruz isn’t a good guy, and he’d be impossible as president. People don’t trust him. And regardless of what your concern is with Trump, he’s pragmatic enough to get something done. I also don’t see malice in Trump like I see with Cruz.” (N.B.: apparently calling someone “slimy” and a “very nasty guy” doesn’t qualify as “malice” in Rep. King’s lexicon.)
This week, the New York Times quoted another major Republican figure — former Senate majority leader and presidential nominee Robert J. Dole — as saying he would prefer Trump to Cruz. “Nobody likes him,” Dole said of Cruz, adding that the senator would bring on a “cataclysmic” loss as the GOP’s nominee...
“Donald (said Cruz) is publicly boasting about how all the big establishment players are getting behind him.”
Trump fired back Thursday at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, saying that Cruz was “slimy” and unpopular in the Senate, whereas he would be able to “get things done.”
“I can tell you, they like me, those guys,” Trump said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that, folks. We’ve got to make deals. We don’t want to sign executive orders. We want to make good deals.”
The Post article goes on to quote a GOP strategist and consummate GOP insider, Alex Castellanos, who says one of the reasons the GOP establishment is getting behind Trump is they don’t believe a word of what Trump says on the campaign trail (“it’s [just] talk”), and expect that he will “pivot on a dime” once he wins the primary. Gone in a flash will be the hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners candidate social conservatives fell in love with.
Newt Gingrich pointed out that there is no enmity toward Trump among GOP elites, while at the same time they have a burning, seething hatred of Cruz. “Trump does not have any particular enmities down here. I don’t think anyone gets up in the morning and is irritated with him,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich said in an interview. “That’s not how it is with Cruz.”
Bottom line, evangelicals: if you like Mitch McConnell, Bob Dole and the GOP establishment, the chances are very good that you are going to love Donald Trump.
Let the voter beware.