If Republicans want a repeat of 2008 and 2012, elections in which millions of evangelicals stayed home and tipped the scale to the Democrat, all they have to do is nominate Donald Trump as their candidate.
There is an emotional fervor behind Mr. Trump in evangelical circles right now, but his support may wane among clear-thinking evangelicals as the glaring light of a presidential campaign makes it evident that his values are further from theirs than either Romney’s or McCain’s.
The NBC News/Survey Monkey online tracking poll released today indicates that Trump has 37% support among white evangelical voters while Cruz sits at 20%. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio lag behind at 11% and 10% respectively.
From an objective standpoint, this nearly 2-to-1 margin of Trump over Cruz among evangelicals is difficult to explain. Trump has little to no familiarity with the Bible, as his “Two Corinthians” gaffe makes clear. His favorite Bible verse - “never bend to envy” - is not even in the Bible. He seems to use his childhood copy of the Scriptures as little more than a prop, much as Bill Clinton did back in the day when he’d wave a giant Bible in the air on his way out of church during the Lewinsky scandal.
Trump likewise seems to have as little familiarity with the Constitution as he does with the Bible, as revealed by his enthusiastic support for the use of eminent domain to take private property from one citizen against his will only to give it to another. This is what he attempted to do when he tried to bulldoze the home of a widow so he could convert the space into a casino parking lot for limousines. In the Bible this would be called theft, even when done under the color of law, as the story of Jezebel and Naboth’s vineyard illustrates. Trump was stopped by the courts, not by moral sensibility or human decency.
In addition, Trump claims to be pro-life, but thinks his rabidly pro-abortion sister would make a great Supreme Court justice. He claims to be a defender of religious liberty, but thinks Kim Davis should have been thrown in jail. He claims to be a supporter of traditional marriage, but has said nothing about what he would do to protect it as an institution. We know nothing about what he would do to protect the rights of Christian bakers and photographers and florists who are being severely punished for supporting natural marriage as he claims to do.
He himself has a quite troubled marital history, the kind of history that gave evangelicals pause with John McCain and was a show-stopper for many with Newt Gingrich. By his own admission, he’s never apologized to God for anything, which hardly squares with an evangelical view of man’s relationship with the Creator.
The point here is that Trump is even less values-driven than either McCain or Romney, and the unforgiving bright light of a campaign will expose this for all to see.
Donald Trump himself has warned us not to believe everything he says to us on the campaign trail. At a rally in Pella, Iowa over the weekend, Trump said, "When I’m president I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person you have ever seen." Yikes.
Many evangelicals, for whatever reason, will stick with Trump to the end (they may still like him, or the alternative may be unthinkable), but millions of others will say to themselves this is not the kind of man we need as a leader of our nation at this point in history, and will either stay home or vote for a third party candidate.
Many evangelicals in November could still cast a vote for Trump, on a “lesser of two evils” calibration. But many others will say a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. No amount of cajoling and remonstrating will change their minds (ask anyone who’s tried), and another election opportunity for conservatism will circle the drain.
While Trump’s level of support among evangelicals, given all these facts, is at 37% (a stunning figure in my eyes), let’s note that means that 63% of all white evangelicals do not support Trump. This means that nearly two-thirds of evangelicals currently have serious reservations of one kind or another about him. It’s hard to see what could happen to cause those reservations to vanish between now and November.
The combined evangelical support for Cruz, Carson, and Rubio is 41%, four points higher than Trump’s level of support. This means there is a sizable pool of available support for whichever evangelical candidate survives the primary scrum.
A Republican candidate cannot win without the enthusiastic support of the evangelical demographic. You can ask the last two GOP candidates all about that. What reason do we have to think that Trump’s numbers will grow between now and November? Little that I can see.
Iowans will caucus on Monday. Around 60% of caucus-goers will be evangelical Christians. If Trump wins Iowa, he may develop an unstoppable momentum and could run the table. The evangelicals who vote on Monday may determine the outcome of the November election and the future of our country. May they vote wisely.