Why Donald Trump’s Love Affair With Evangelicals (Probably) Won’t Last

According to the latest Quinnipiac University poll of Republican likely caucus-goers, Donald Trump is still earning the admiration of 20 percent of evangelicals, bested only by Ben Carson at 27 percent. Candidates once thought to be easy evangelical favorites are still, still lagging: Ted Cruz (12 percent), Mike Huckabee (7 percent), and Scott Walker (6 percent). Oh, yeah, and that guy Bush (4 percent).

There was a moment last week, though, that really stood out to me in the litany of Things Donald Trump Does Not Understand About Evangelicals. After Carson said on Wednesday that the chief difference between him and Trump was that “I’ve realized where my success has come from, and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God,” Trump hit back in a quintessentially Trump manner, as Mediaite reports:

“He is a man of faith, everybody knows that,” host Chris Cuomo began. “It’s a cornerstone of his existence and certainly his motivation to run.”

“Well I don’t know that,” Trump responded. “I had not heard that. I have known of Ben Carson for a long time and never heard faith was a big thing until just recently when he started running. So I don’t know about Ben Carson’s faith.”

“He’s a Seventh-Day Adventist!” Cuomo protested.

“All of a sudden he becomes the great religious figure. I don’t think he’s a great religious figure. I saw him yesterday quoting on humility, and it looked like he memorized it two minutes before he made the quote. So don’t tell me about Ben Carson,” Trump responded.

One might argue about what constitutes a “big man of faith.” One might argue about what level of religious talk is appropriate (if at all) in a presidential campaign. But there’s no denying that to evangelicals Ben Carson has long been someone whose faith was not in doubt. His 1996 book, Gifted Hands, details his difficult childhood and rise from inner city Detroit to become a prominent neurosurgeon. It is packaged as a morality tale of the role of faith in overcoming life’s obstacles. It was published by Zondervan, a leading evangelical publishing house which has gone on to publish other Carson books. Evangelicals have long seen the book in Christian bookstores, and have read it and become familiar with Carson’s life story.

Carson may have been catapulted to the national political stage when he attacked President Obama and “the PC police” at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. But the reason he was the keynote speaker at the breakfast in the first place was because of his standing among evangelicals.

In the contest of wearing one’s faith on one’s sleeve, Carson has Trump beat by a mile. As Religion News Services’ Adelle Banks writes, Carson, a twice-baptized Seventh-Day Adventist, prayed before each surgery he performed, and believes we live in a “Judeo-Christian nation.” That’s not to say he’s a respected theologian by any stretch (Carson, after all, has been criticized for misapprehending the Biblical tithing he claims undergirds his flat tax proposal). But Trump’s broadsides do demonstrate just how far Trump will go in saying what he wants, regardless of whether it has any basis in fact, and, even more surprisingly, regardless of whether it will hurt him with the voting bloc he claims to love.

Carson, no doubt, is a beneficiary of Trump’s upending of the Republican field as a political “outsider”—it’s why he’s besting the rest of the field among evangelicals in polls. That, too, might not last. As Ed Kilgore points out, Carson offers little beyond his conspiratorial attacks on liberals and “political correctness,” like “Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery; Obama might be planning to cancel elections; Democrats are opening the borders to bring in immigrants who will increase the welfare population and thus keep Democrats in power.” Although, Kilgore adds, “these are not unusual beliefs in the fever swamps of the far right, they are exotic for a major-party presidential candidate.”

For a while, Trump’s bombast worked with some evangelicals; witness his cheering squad at the Christian Broadcasting Network. He was a self-anointed declarer of victory over the liberals, and over the legacy of Barack Obama in particular, and this was enough, notwithstanding his lack of an apparent faith story (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and his lack of a longstanding commitment to the Christian right’s culture war issues. His vows to vanquish the losers, despite the distinct lack of religious overtones (for example, the promise that if he becomes president, “we’ll have so much winning, you’ll get bored with winning”) nonetheless appeared to resonate with some evangelicals.

But evidence that evangelicals, despite their overwhelming Republican Party identification and relatively homogenous commitment to opposing abortion, are not a monolith when it comes to picking a presidential candidate. For some time, evangelicals who say they support immigration reform (even though their positions have failed to move the Republican Party, with or without Trump) have been disgusted with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Rick Perry gave voice to that discontent as he dropped out of the race last week, taking aim at “nativist appeals that divide the nation further.” Perry added, “Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ . . . . we can love all who live within our borders without betraying our values.”

New rifts, too, are beginning to emerge. Last week, despite Trump’s appearance at the Tea Party rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill, Jewish conservatives began to express their own doubts. As Josh Nathan-Kazis reports at the Forward, Trump is provoking “angst” among Jewish Republicans, in large measure because of the following of white nationalists he has attracted. And Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told TPM last week that Trump “is making many of us very nervous,” adding that “he doesn’t have the temperament to be president.” And if he’s making Jewish Republicans uneasy, that’s going to ripple within the Christian Zionist community as well. He may not need Sheldon Adelson’s money, but he will at least need good standing among Jewish Republicans to maintain any kind of standing with pro-Israel evangelicals, a very vocal and active part of the GOP base.

  • Carson may have been catapulted to the national political stage when he attacked President Obama and “the PC police” at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. But the reason he was the keynote speaker at the breakfast in the first place was because of his standing among evangelicals.

    Well, I can’t think of any other reason…..

  • flattaxman

    ALL of these presidential candidates have little to say
    about the illegal alien problem. They are all closed mouthed and probably
    scared of their own shadow. Mr. Donald Trump is completely different from the
    pack, and is not hindered in saying anything that is the truth and that is
    exactly what people want to hear the truth? The rhetoric is finally old hat and
    the majority of the population is not listening anymore? They want change!
    Trumps greatest advantage to me and millions of millions of average American,
    they cannot buy his loyalty. All of a sudden the career professionals on both
    side of the aisle in Congress cannot offer any special favors to the wealthy
    donors.

    That’s what we want and always needed a true outsider who is
    not looking for a handout cash to fill their campaigns and their own bank
    accounts. Jeb Bush cannot touch trump or even Madam Clinton; Ben Carson is
    really too timid to fight the deal makers or those who are falling behind in
    the polls. A billionaire, where money is no object and a chance ‘TO MAKE
    AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’; somebody who is worth voting for, to bring back all the
    jobs to our country again, and more jobs for every new and genuine American;
    jobs for people who have given up and can hardly put food on the table? Food
    stamps were never the answer, except to those people who prefer to be a
    parasite on the working man or women. No matter whom you are and as long as
    you’re here in the United States legally, then you will be eligible for a job.

    Forget the Birthright Citizenship controversy; the Feds need
    to run Mandatory E-Verify without any immunity. How can an enforcement tool,
    work to its full capacity if it’s optional? Its about time employers were
    accountable for using illegal workers, instead of hiring Americans. Paying low
    wages in any industry should be severely punished. Every American of any race,
    color or religion should be first for any job, and not foreign nationals?
    Business owners deserve prison and hefty fines.

    The National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, testified
    before the House Oversight Committee earlier last week and projected that the
    agency has only accomplished operational control for approximately 40% of the
    U.S.-Mexico border. Former President Bush signature on the 2006 Secure Fence
    Act had an obligation that DHS attain operational control along the entire Southern
    border.

    US Border Patrol agents testified about the porous and brutal
    conditions facing them on the southern border.

    Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) first questioned
    Director of Customs and Border Protection’s joint task force, Robert L. Harris,
    on the topic of operational control, but he wouldn’t articulate how much was
    under control. Operational control means that the government in that area is
    ready and capable of interdiction or apprehending illegal aliens crossing the
    border.

    Brandon Judd
    said.” I would say we would be lucky if it we’re 40 percent”

    Councilor Judd also said that one out of every five illegal
    aliens caught along the border in 2014 have a criminal record. Nearly half of
    the criminal aliens that were deported had aggravated felonies, helping to
    explain some of the violence in the different sectors.

    “This is the challenge we are facing at the border
    today,” Judd said. “There are those who will point to lower
    apprehension rates and tell you the border is secure. Border Patrol agents,
    however, throughout this nation will tell you the border is not secure and the
    southwest border certainly is not safe.”

    DHS also revealed this week that only 36 miles of the
    U.S.-Mexico border has effective double fencing. That came in response to a
    letter sent to the agency by Senate Judiciary Committee Member, Sen. Ted Cruz
    (R-Texas). DHS also said that 66% of the border had no fencing at all. The
    agency said:

    1,300 miles have
    no fencing (66.5%)

    299.8 miles have
    vehicle fence (15.3%)

    316.6 miles of
    pedestrian fence (16.2%)

    36.3 miles of
    double-layer fencing (.02%)

    The current total
    for primary fencing to be 352.9 miles. 316.6 single layer plus 36.3 miles
    of double layer = 352.9 miles of primary fencing.

    I really hope Mr. Donald Trump has takes the time to read about this
    disgraceful travesty. Why is it that King Obama hasn’t deployed the national
    guards into these places? Go in with Apache helicopters, mini guns and even
    tanks and clean out these ‘Hell holes” Are we so naive to protect our own
    country from these animals, who kill without thought? Continuously we have been
    lied to by the top leaders in the Democratic and Republican Party? King Obama
    has put the cuffs on the Border agents only to process and not taken into
    detention.

    I read: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose county lies at the center of major drug
    and alien smuggling routes to Phoenix and cities east and west, attests to the violence. He
    said his deputies are outmanned and outgunned by drug traffickers in the
    rough-hewn desert stretches of his own county.

    “Mexican drug
    cartels literally do control parts of Arizona,” he said. “They literally have
    scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the hills and they literally
    control movement. They have radios, they have optics, and they have
    night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has.

    “This is going on
    here in Arizona,” he said. “This is 70 to 80 miles
    from the border – 30 miles from the fifth-largest city in the United States.” [. . .]

    This is what I have been saying all the time; when just a few years ago
    I drove to the Arizona border region and saw it for myself? The signs were posted by the Bureau of Land Management
    (BLM) along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila
    Bend, a major east-west corridor linking Tucson and Phoenix with San Diego. Land—our own country
    and you’re told to stay away. Why is
    billions of our tax dollars spent to defend foreign countries when we are
    losing American territory to a bunch of criminals? Citizens should be able to
    travel highways in southern Arizona without fearing for their lives. Ranchers
    and other residents should be able to live safely on their property — which
    they do not.

  • Border Line

    You have not done your research. Carson is loosing Evangelicals votes rapidly.

  • conjurehealing

    This is only a distraction and a circus right now, since the Republican ticket has already been decided, and everyone else will get in line. It’s simple electoral math: Bush and Kasich will be the nominees for president and vice president this time next year. Put your money on this and thank me later when you win.

  • Kelly

    Maybe the Mexicans just got tired of the US having their territory and are trying to get it back…. 😛

  • nmgirl

    Do you think they want Texas back?

  • Duck

    I cannot see either Trump or Carson wasting their time or money on something they consider a lost cause. Obviously they believe they have some kind of chance for success.

    But it’s a sad (and hypocritical) day for Evangelicals when they have to stoop to backing a Seventh Day Adventist (Carson; or Mormon as in Romney’s case) when Christians teach those religions are cults. All any politician needs to do to get Evangelical support is simply say you believe in God (any kind of god).

    In normal circumstances Trump would not have a chance as he’s far too brash (some people call that honesty) and I don’t believe he has either the political or financial savvy to undertake the task. And Carson has passion but that will not be enough.

    It makes me wonder whatever happened to choosing candidates simply on the basis of qualifications and a good track record, as would happen in any other CEO position.

  • Jim Reed

    They need to find another skilled politician, like Bush, who can inspire Christianity to go to war and support torture as needed. Someone who believes deeply, but doesn’t get hung up on details of what belief means.

  • Jim Reed

    What do you mean by choosing candidates on the basis of a good track record? Killing unions and pensions? Denying global warning and expanding fossil fuel use? Privatizing prisons? Promising to build a fence on the Mexico border? Most of all, shutting down Planned Parenthood locations?

  • Dave Francis

    ALL of these presidential candidates have little to say
    about the illegal alien problem. They are all closed mouthed and probably
    scared of their own shadow. Mr. Donald Trump is completely different from the
    pack, and is not hindered in saying anything that is the truth and that is
    exactly what people want to hear the truth? The rhetoric is finally old hat and
    the majority of the population is not listening anymore? They want change!
    Trumps greatest advantage to me and millions of millions of average American,
    they cannot buy his loyalty. All of a sudden the career professionals on both
    side of the aisle in Congress cannot offer any special favors to the wealthy
    donors.

    Myself, the family circle have had it on trust with both
    parties and so has the unknown numbers of people throughout the United States
    that are ready to collectively vote for Trump. You cannot even have any
    credence in the REAL numbers of illegal aliens in our nation, as the government
    fudges so much on any statistics? As for the GOP establishment or the top
    Democrats they are out of it, because of the incessant cronyism and all the
    friends that wiggle their way into high paying government jobs.

    That’s what we want and always needed a true outsider who is
    not looking for a handout cash to fill their campaigns and their own bank
    accounts. Jeb Bush cannot touch trump or even Madam Clinton; Ben Carson is
    really too timid to fight the deal makers or those who are falling behind in
    the polls. A billionaire, where money is no object and a chance ‘TO MAKE
    AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’; somebody who is worth voting for, to bring back all the
    jobs to our country again, and more jobs for every new and genuine American;
    jobs for people who have given up and can hardly put food on the table? Food
    stamps were never the answer, except to those people who prefer to be a
    parasite on the working man or women. No matter whom you are and as long as
    you’re here in the United States legally, then you will be eligible for a job.

    Forget the Birthright Citizenship controversy; the Feds need
    to run Mandatory E-Verify without any immunity. How can an enforcement tool,
    work to its full capacity if it’s optional? Its about time employers were
    accountable for using illegal workers, instead of hiring Americans. Paying low
    wages in any industry should be severely punished. Every American of any race,
    color or religion should be first for any job, and not foreign nationals?
    Business owners deserve prison and hefty fines.

    The National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd,
    testified before the House Oversight Committee earlier last week and projected
    that the agency has only accomplished operational control for approximately 40%
    of the U.S.-Mexico border. Former President Bush signature on the 2006 Secure
    Fence Act had an obligation that DHS attain operational control along the
    entire Southern border.

    US Border Patrol agents testified about the porous and
    brutal conditions facing them on the southern border. Attacked with rocks and
    even gun fire.

    Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) first questioned
    Director of Customs and Border Protection’s joint task force, Robert L. Harris,
    on the topic of operational control, but he wouldn’t articulate how much was
    under control. Operational control means that the government in that area is
    ready and capable of interdiction or apprehending illegal aliens crossing the
    border.

    Brandon Judd
    said.” I would say we would be lucky if
    it we’re 40 percent”

    Councilor Judd also said that one out of every five illegal
    aliens caught along the border in 2014 have a criminal record. Nearly half of
    the criminal aliens that were deported had aggravated felonies, helping to
    explain some of the violence in the different sectors.

    “This is the challenge we are facing at the border
    today,” Judd said. “There are those who will point to lower
    apprehension rates and tell you the border is secure. Border Patrol agents,
    however, throughout this nation will tell you the border is not secure and the
    southwest border certainly is not safe.”

    DHS also revealed last week that only 36 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border has effective double fencing. That came in
    response to a letter sent to the agency by Senate Judiciary Committee Member,
    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). DHS also said that 66% of the border had no fencing at
    all. The agency said:

    1,300 miles have no fencing (66.5%)

    299.8 miles have vehicle fence (15.3%)

    316.6 miles of pedestrian fence (16.2%)

    36.3 miles of double-layer fencing (.02%)

    The current total
    for primary fencing to be 352.9 miles. 316.6 single layer plus 36.3 miles of double layer = 352.9 miles of primary fencing.

    I really hope Mr. Donald Trump has takes the time to read about this
    disgraceful travesty. Why is it that King Obama hasn’t deployed the national
    guards into these places? Go in with Apache helicopters, mini guns and even
    tanks and clean out these ‘Hell holes” Are we so naive to protect our own
    country from these animals, who kill without thought? Continuously we have been
    lied to by the top leaders in the Democratic and Republican Party? King Obama
    has put the cuffs on the Border agents only to process and not taken into
    detention.

    I read: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose county lies at the center of major drug
    and alien smuggling routes to Phoenix and cities east and west, attests to the violence. He
    said his deputies are out-manned and outgunned by drug traffickers in the rough
    desert terrain that stretches of his own county.

    “Mexican drug cartels literally do control parts of Arizona,” he said.
    “They literally have scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the
    hills and they literally control movement. They have radios, they have optics,
    and they have night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has.

    “This is going on here in Arizona,” he
    said. “This is 70 to 80 miles from the
    border – 30 miles from the
    fifth-largest city in the United
    States.”

    This is what I have been saying all the time; when just a few years ago
    I drove to the Arizona border region and saw it for myself? The signs were posted by the Bureau of Land Management
    (BLM) along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila
    Bend, a major east-west corridor linking Tucson and Phoenix with San Diego. Land—our own country
    and you’re told to stay away. Why is
    billions of our tax dollars spent to defend foreign countries when we are
    losing American territory to a bunch of criminals? Citizens should be able to
    travel highways in southern Arizona without fearing for their lives. Ranchers
    and other residents should be able to live safely on their property — which
    they do not.

  • Duck

    So let me get this straight: you pick your electoral candidates by ‘not’ looking at their track record???

  • Duck

    So I take it that you think Trump or Carson could do a better job? But I thought you are anti-religious and Carson is most definitely religious?

  • Jim Reed

    The Republican candidates are all eliminated because they want war with Iran. The other issues are more minor.

  • Jim Reed

    That was the Christian point of view. An interesting question is how does he Christian vote settle on a candidate when they are in the middle of a centuries long process of branching into multiple sects based on their disagreements?

  • Jim Reed

    Meanwhile, Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is upset with the Senate report on the agency’s torture program. It’s slanted, it’s one-sided, and it cherry-picks information.

    I see his point. Diane Feinstein focuses on the negative and just doesn’t see the good side of torture.

  • iamme73

    I don’t think Trump will lose favor with evangelicals as long as he keeps hating and attacking the right kinds of people and groups.

    For conservatives of all stripes, it’s the racism, the willingness of Trump to push the racist birthism nonsense, the racist Mexican are rapists and criminals tripe.

    I don’t know why evangelicals would abandon Trump on religious grounds when Trump has never passed himself off as some religious person.

    Trump didn’t go out of his way to appeal to evangelicals, they came to favor him just like all other groups of conservatives because of the racist ideas Trump is advancing.

    It is just that simple, it’s right there in front of everyone. All of this Trump is gonna make America great again, and he is against the republican establishment as the reason to support Trump is bunk. Ted Cruz has proven to be an enemy of the establishment. And all the candidates talk about restoring American greatness.

    Yet there is no groundswell of support for any of them, what has Trump done that separates him from other conservative candidates, it’s the racist birthism stuff, it’s saying Mexicans are rapists and criminals.

    That’s been trumps appeal. It’s the racism that a huge percentage of evangelicals as well as conservatives in general love.

  • charles.hoffman.cpa

    even the most Democratic-hating evangelical will finally realize that adhering to Trump as an antidote to liberal Democrats is like contracting Syphilis to ward off toenail fungus

  • JCF

    “I read: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu..”

    Oh, you mean the Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu who deported his own Mexican boyfriend in order to shut him up about Babeu’s hypocrisy re who he f#cks? That Sheriff Paul Babeu?

    Between all the “Deport ’em all!” Nativists w/ their undocumented nannies and undocumented yardcare workers and undocumented horse stable attendants, Babeu’s hypocrisy is only a little more nekkid than most…

  • JCF

    I’d like to deport all Cut&Paste Trolls (if not over a border, then at least back under their bridges…WITHOUT wifi!)

  • apotropoxy

    Evangelicals, being authoritarians, are particularly prone to affinity with the Strong Man. And because faith requires setting aside reality in favor of hope, they are already habituated to denial. Internalizing Trumpian contradictions will trigger almost no disturbance to their psyche.

  • Typical of you, you twisted my words to fit your one-track thinking: I was saying that all candidates have to do to get ‘Evangelical’ votes is to say they believe in God (including candidates from religions that Evangelicals rate as ‘cults’). It’s hypocritical of Evangelicals as candidates should be voted in on the basis that other CEO’s are elected (qualifications and track record).

  • Jim Reed

    I was going over the track record of the Republicans for the Republican primary.

  • Duck

    Trump believes the Bible is ‘special’ and that’s enough for many Christians.

  • Duck

    That was not the point I was making but how hypocritical religious people are during election time when in usual circumstances Evangelicals, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists avoid each other like the plague.

  • Duck

    So true. The authoritarian nature of Christianity predisposes adherents to be good followers, which means that critical thinking is not only discouraged, it does not exist.

  • Duck

    So, what’s your point? You’re not a Bush fan but neither a Carson fan and you haven’t said much about Trump so where are you politically speaking? Or do you want to say?

  • Jim Reed

    I appreciate the job Trump is doing because he is screwing up the Republican processes and then they sometimes stumble over truth.

  • Jim Reed

    The point I was trying to make is all the Republicans want war with Iran. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or what the results will be. It is their path to election.

  • Duck

    Good leadership is severely wanting in US politics. Bush will carry his party line (he has the track record, good or bad) and Trump and Carson leadership is just scary to think about. Christian factions will go with who shouts ‘God’ the loudest. It’s the same in Canada, there is a serious leadership crisis in both nations. Government has lost the faith of the people and it’s this issue that needs to be addressed or many people will not vote for lack of credible candidates (and that is a serious situation). And the public at large is content to let the blame fall on one man’s shoulders (no wonder we do not have good leadership). If something is not working then we should be trying something else and that’s where I believe public referendums would be of great benefit so that the burden of responsibility is placed where it should be, on the shoulders of the general public.