A Test for Trump—And the Religious Right

Last night the Family Research Council announced that Donald Trump would, after all, be speaking at the annual Values Voters Summit tomorrow. As I noted last week, Trump’s initial decision to decline the speaking invitation risked him alienating a crucial constituency—social conservatives—in the Republican primary.

The question is what kind of speech will Trump give, and whether it will further solidify his standing among evangelicals, or whether it will further expose the divide between the self-identified evangelicals who have helped fuel Trump’s rise, and those who reject him.

I’ve covered most of the Values Voters Summits since they started in 2006. Although immigration (or rather opposition to immigration reform) is sometimes mentioned, the key issues for the audience listening to candidate speeches have been abortion, marriage, the besieged Christian nature of the nation, and the candidate’s own faith.

As I discussed with the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore earlier this week on bloggingheads, and have addressed here at RD, Trump is exposing fractures in the religious right. On the one hand, he’s attracting close to a third of “born again” registered Republicans, according to CNN polling conducted after last week’s debate. At the same time, many evangelical elites, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, have chastised Trump over his immigration stance. But as the CNN poll found, 49% of self-identified “born again” registered Republicans believe Trump to be the best positioned candidate to handle immigration. That’s a pretty stunning number given Moore’s very public rejections of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, and is indicative of one kind of split among these voters.

But voters who will self-identify as “born again” or “evangelical” to a pollster are not a monolith. As Warren Smith argues at WORLD magazine, “watching Joel Osteen on TV doesn’t make you an evangelical.” Smith calls the evangelical support for Trump a “myth;” others, like Keith Miller, have argued that evangelicals with high church attendance are less likely to support Trump than others (possibly those who casually watch Osteen in their living rooms)?

While it might appear that all these voters share something in common—a strong belief that America is in decline—they come to it from very different vantage points. Trump supporters appear moved by his angry tirades against the vaguely-identified destroyers of what made America great. For conservative evangelicals, historically this discontent has been far more specifically laid out, and deeply rooted in their religious and political views (which are tied together). For these evangelicals, America is in decline because of secularism, abortion (and contraception and Planned Parenthood), marriage (and the Kim Davis-baker-caterer range of issues), and the meaning of the Bible in public life. If conservative evangelicals support Trump, they are supporting a candidate who quite obviously doesn’t share the priorities they have long claimed are central to their religious and political identity.

It’s been pretty clear from Trump’s behavior that he doesn’t understand this world very well. He’s appeared on David Brody’s segment on the Christian Broadcasting Network, but even there can’t seem to summon any evidence of basic biblical knowledge, or even a sense of what this base’s ideological commitments are.

With a base fractured over Trump, many will look to what the elites are saying. WORLD has been conducting a monthly survey of evangelical “insiders,” who have not been picking Trump as their favorite. This month’s survey finds Marco Rubio in the lead with 37%, followed by Ted Cruz (19%), and Carly Fiorina (18%). It’s not a scientific poll, and it surveyed just 91 people, but Trump only registered 1%.

Smith writes that “evangelical Christian voters know better” than to buy into Trumpmania. “They look at Trump,” he adds, “and see a man whose political positions, personal lifestyle, and bombastic rhetoric are not consistent with what they know their evangelical doctrine and theology teaches.”

Here’s what to watch tomorrow: whether the audience at Values Voters will like Trump despite the views of evangelical “insiders,” and whether Trump will even try to demonstrate more fluency with their essential religious and political commitments.

 

13 Comments

  • synoptic354@gmail.com' Synoptic12 says:

    Proverbs

    8:15

    15 By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.

  • clintbat@yahoo.com' Clint Batterton says:

    It’s funny how that so many who were “born again” come back as ignorant bigots. As the editor of the Waco “Iconoclast” observed over 100 years ago, the only problem I have with the Baptists is that too many of them weren’t held under the water long enough. I can’t understand why you can’t be a “Christian” without despising and discriminating against gay people. Apparently there are some Bibles somewhere in which the Golden Rule has an escape clause for bigots.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' Well_Read says:

    Trump is the only republican candidate that could defend a secular godless constitution. The rest would push us towards a christian theocracy. Carson believed the big bang and evolution were invented and pushed by the devil (no…..really), Santorum doesn’t believe there is a separation of church/state, Jindal doesn’t want the supreme ct to be able to rule on state laws (so they could pass biblical bigoted laws and nothing could be done to stop them), Huckabee would like to pass ‘sin laws’ like the comstock laws, women could be arrested for having skirts too short. Some seem moderate like Kasich and Christie but they have signed crippling laws on social issues in their states. Sheep in wolfs clothing.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    If I were one of Trumps sketch writers, I’d advise him to find a pretext to reject the engagement at the last minute and blame ________________ . (Fill in the blank)

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The point of Christianity is feeling better than someone else (but giving Jesus and God the glory and credit). As their options become more limited, they struggle to find people to put in that other category.

  • alencon13@hotmail.com' Alencon says:

    What “crippling laws on social issues” has Christie signed?

    I’m no fan of Christie, especially given his record of conflict with the teachers union, but I can’t recall any “crippling laws on social issues” that Christie has signed because I don’t know of any that the New Jersey legislature has passed.

    If you have an example I’d be curious to hear about it.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' Well_Read says:

    I could be wrong that he passed any, but to hear him talk he leans pretty far right. pot and abortion recently.

  • alencon13@hotmail.com' Alencon says:

    He’s conservative, in the Republican primaries he has to play to the crowd and he tends to be anti-union but keep in mind that he (1) signed the bill in NJ outlawing Reparative Therapy for minors and (2) accepted the handwriting on the wall in not appealing the New Jersey state court legalization of gay marriage even though he vetoed the bill passed by the legislature legalizing it.

    He’s more of a Nixon type (probably crooked) than a wing nut. Of the entire stable of Republican loonies he’s possibly the least objectionable. Which of course isn’t saying all that much.

  • Dennis.Lurvey@live.com' Well_Read says:

    I thought he was moderate when speaking as governor, but as a candidate he’s showing his stripes.

    Presidential candidates have always tried to look like christians while running, that’s why it’s difficult to prove the real beliefs of past presidents.

  • e_lizabeth@ymail.com' yak_disqus says:

    It’s funny how this slanted and biased political tripe against the “religious right” is funded by my tax dollars, as demonstrated by USC’s logo in the upper left corner. Ms. Posner certainly has every right to write as she wishes on any topic, but I do not understand how our tax dollars should be used to support her worldview — or frankly, any worldview or political perspective.

  • e_lizabeth@ymail.com' yak_disqus says:

    Make whatever noise you wish — the real question revolves around how public tax dollars are used. Jindal is sick and tired of Federal interference. Christie is a pragmatist, not an ideologue, so is Kasich. I think your views are heavily punctuated by the abortion issue rather than an objective appraisal of any political philosophy.

  • infinity007@comcast.net' Dave Francis says:

    Millions of Americans don’t
    care how loud Donald Trump is, his scattering of his words, his little but
    growing knowledge of foreign policy, his numerous bankruptcies or anything
    about his insults to other political patsies of the corporate Special Interests.
    Trump has substance, an outsider that I truly believe he isn’t going to crucify
    the American people of their hopes, dreams or the usual promises, that runs
    through the GOP establishment like water. I couldn’t care less what the pundits
    have to say, the anchors, the investigative reporters or the personalities on
    the TV shows, that do their level best to repudiate anything that Mr. Trump
    makes his speeches about. There is one
    thing I know the wall across our Southern border with the stopping power of any
    further invasion from Mexico or even further a field by unwanted
    welfare desperation?

    What are we doing when
    millions of genuine men, women and children who have a right to be here, are
    suffering from abject poverty? The American people are justified in thinking
    that illegal aliens get better considerations, than our own vets?

    I have no interest in what
    Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton has to say, as their prior background has a lot
    to be desired, specifically the foundation that has donors from foreign
    nations? Although when Bill was President he does has some claims on a far
    better economy? I am ashamed of myself that I voted for this veiled Liberal
    called Barack Obama. Other countries wonder if the United States even exist
    today, as the most powerful country in the world stand back when their are
    military conflagrations in the Middle East. There obviously is a secret agenda
    to give Tehran free reign over self inspection of nuclear sites which is
    ludicrous. I’m telling you now, with no hesitation Israel will not fall for
    this agreement, and stands ready with any inkling of IRANS whispered
    aggression, they will be wiped out. A terrorist nation! just as Cuba is a communist state and throws
    free speech dissidents into prison, once again we are giving them all,
    including GITMO and probably like IRAN $$100’s of billions of dollars in
    so called reparations? And once again,
    what do we get–NOTHING. Just promises to change?

    We should have impeached
    King Obama ages ago, because his a agenda is extreme socialism to control the
    American people with nothing but promises. What have we got from this
    administration $$trillions of dollars in more spending, growing a nation of
    “Freeloaders” as their is no restrictions under this government. A
    governing body with the political correct policing that has turned different
    skin colors against each other.

    I know
    President Donald Trump will revise the E-Verify tool that ICE audit
    agents use, that MUST BE Mandated. That employers will have to peer over their
    shoulder, as every American worker could be a whistle blower ready to call ICE
    on companies nefarious act using illegal
    aliens in the workforce for profit? What I do care about is the Special
    business interests buying career lawmakers votes and ignoring THE PEOPLE who pay their salaries. One thing
    Donald Trump is not, a plant by the GOP establishment or Democrats to adopt the
    same corruption in Washington. I think the Washington
    Establishment is going to sell you — and every Tea Party American — out in
    this upcoming election.

    Again I don’t care if Trump
    has $$10 billion dollars or $$2 Billion as nobody has the financial power to
    buy his loyalty. He cannot be bribed or dirt to blackmail him for past tactics
    in either party. Donald Trump will align himself with the American people, not
    vested interests, crony capitalists and career politicians. The others who are
    trying to climb in the polls, trying to spotlight on the American peoples
    center of attention in the race to the oval office; in my eyes are already being
    unknowingly corrupted as they have taken checks from wealthy donors who want
    something in the immediate future?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    USC is a private school for rich kids.

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