In the conservative Washington Examiner, Paul Bedard wrote on Tuesday, “Amen corner: Trump makes inroads with social conservatives, evangelicals.”
Donald Trump’s surge into the lead of the Republican presidential primary can be credited partly to two groups he has rarely engaged: social conservatives and evangelical Christians.
“Trump is tapping into deep-seated anger in America, a nation founded by Christians ‘for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith,'” said David Lane, a prominent national evangelical political organizer. “He’s tapping into something at the grassroots, precinct level of America. America is starving for moral, principled leadership. I hope that Donald Trump brings that.”
Seriously? David Lane, as regular RWW readers know, is an anti-gay “Christian-nation” political operative who organizes meet-and-greet events and international trips that bring conservative evangelical pastors together with Republican politicians. The oft-married, self-worshipping Trump seems an odd fit for the man who wants to make the Bible the primary textbook in public schools and thinks the purpose of the U.S. government is to advance the Christian faith.
Evangelicals have flirted with Trump before. Recall Trump’s 2012 appearance at Liberty University, where he delivered a speech that Kyle described on RWW as “a typically self-aggrandizing and buffoonish message that was superficially about the importance of God and his Christian but was really about self-promotion and the importance of always getting even with your enemies.”
An unnamed “leader in the social conservative movement” reportedly told Bedard that Trump’s bluster about restoring “order” on the Mexican border has “wowed” voters who are disgusted with Washington.
But other evangelicals were not too happy about Trump’s weekend appearance in Iowa. Trump’s comments denigrating John McCain’s war service got the most mainstream media attention, but Ed Kilgore noted in Washington Monthly that Trump’s response to questions about his faith from pollster Frank Luntz were hardly the kind that would inspire evangelicals: “Luntz asked The Donald if he had ever asked God for forgiveness, and it was really as though the idea had never occurred to him.”
“If I do something wrong, I try to do something right,” he said. “I don’t bring God into that picture.”
Spoken like an ethical agnostic, right? But perhaps sensing his answer wasn’t adequate, he tried to recover:
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said.
Byron York also wrote that Trump’s McCain remarks were not the biggest problem coming out of Iowa, saying that a “senior Iowa Republican” was “dumbfounded” by Trump’s comments on religion.
“While there were audible groans in the crowd when Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero,” the senior Republican said via email, “it was Trump’s inability to articulate any coherent relationship with God or demonstrate the role faith plays in his life that really sucked the oxygen out of the room.”
Steve Benen notes that Jeb Bush jumped to take advantage of Trump’s remarks, telling a conservative radio host that he, Bush, “regularly” asks God for forgiveness. Rick Perry is also trying to use Trump’s dismissal of the need for God’s forgiveness as a way to get some attention, saying that a man too self-absorbed to seek God’s forgiveness does not belong in the White House. It’s worth noting that Perry informally launched his failed 2012 bid with a political prayer rally organized by David Lane and his dominionist allies, making it hard to take Perry seriously when he warns against “false prophets” and messengers “who appeal to anger, division and resentment.”
Lane’s comments are also out of synch with some of his political allies. Sarah Posner pointed out this week that Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference said last week that they didn’t know a single evangelical who supports Trump, saying Christians are turned off by Trump’s immigrant-bashing. But it seems that Moore and Rodriguez need to get out among their constituents a bit more — Posner notes that a Washington Post poll showed Trump as the preferred candidate of 20 percent of white evangelicals, with 45 percent of white evangelicals saying Trump is “just about right” on the issues. A recent Public Policy Polling survey [PDF] found that Trump had higher favorability ratings among evangelical Republicans than non-evangelicals in the party.
David Lane’s positive comments about Trump, who is currently sitting at the top of the polls, are probably just another example of Religious Right leaders’ habit of publicly demanding religious and political purity, but then throwing their support to whatever politicians the GOP nominates. (James Dobson perfected this move.)
Lane has said his effort to recruit 1,000 like-minded evangelical pastors to run for office — and in the process get hundreds of thousands of conservative Christian volunteer workers to influence the 2016 elections — was inspired by his own pastor’s failed run for the state assembly. Last month that pastor, Rob McCoy, made it to public office, winning a seat on the city council of Thousand Oaks, California.