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Donald Trump’s appeal to evangelicals is real: David Brody
It’s not a match made in heaven, but evangelicals have their reasons for liking Trump.
After watching Donald Trump maneuver on the presidential campaign trail during these last six enthralling months, I’ve come to the following conclusions: Trump definitely has an appeal to conservative evangelicals, and this seemingly bewildering relationship belongs on the next episode of the Dr. Phil show. How in the world did this happen?
While evangelicals are not a monolithic group, poll after poll shows plenty of them gravitating Trump’s way. He’ll get a chance to sway more believers Monday when he visits Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, and again next month at Regent University, another leading Christian institution, where he’ll appear with founder Pat Robertson.
When voting time rolls around, strong evangelical support could very well mean a top-two finish in Iowa, not too shabby considering the critics who thought Trump would be long gone by now. His polling in South Carolina is also impressive, as is his strength in many of the states in the evangelical-rich South that vote in the crucial March 1 SEC primary (nicknamed for the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference). What you have is a path to victory potentially powered by evangelicals.
Explaining this attraction is not as hard as it seems. On the surface, you see the potential warts: three marriages, a pro-choice past, salty language delivered by a New Yorker, and the list goes on. To be sure, Donald Trump would not be Central Casting’s prototype evangelical candidate. Name-calling along with the hefty ego aren’t sought after character traits.
But something is resonating. You see, Trump operates in a world of absolutes where there are winners and losers; there is the right way and the wrong way. In short, it’s a world painted in black and white. Evangelicals see the world in much the same way, in that accepting Jesus is the only way to Heaven and the Bible is the inerrant word of God. They are publicly ridiculed for their unbending, non-negotiable approach, just as Trump is widely mocked for his adamant positions. It’s called a common psychological bond.
The connection likely goes even deeper. Trump is resonating within the ranks of the “sick and tired.” Evangelicals are fed up with politicians telling them one thing and doing another. We saw this play out in the 2004 presidential election. The GOP establishment pleaded with evangelicals to get out and vote, promising that in his second term, George W. Bush would champion a Federal Marriage Amendment constitutionally limiting marriage to a man and a woman. They showed up in droves, and then the issue was dropped like a hot potato. They’re sick and tired of being lied to and played like pawns.
Trump may not be perfect (far from it), but they feel like he’s at least being honest with them. That’s why he can appear in front of thousands of evangelicals, tell them he’s not sure about asking God for forgiveness, and still leave to applause. They’d rather hear that than some phony line about being on his knees every day. It played to his brand of authenticity, which evangelicals see as refreshing.
The Trump brand also includes a lack of political correctness. Combine that with his tough talk on fighting terrorism, temporarily banning Muslims coming into the United States and taking the fight to ISIL (seize the oil!), and what you get is an attentive congregation. Why? Because the persecution of Christians overseas and fighting radical Islam are top-tier issues for evangelicals. The fact that terrorism is the top concern of Americans this election cycle only helps Trump’s cause. After all, ISIL is brash and in-your-face, and Donald Trump is just as brash.
When it’s all pressed down and shaken, the evangelical attraction adds up. Even if you discount the psychological reasons for the bond, consider this: Trump is considered a winner. He’s the $10 billion dollar success guy who knows the art of the deal. It’s been his narrative from the start of this race and gets cemented even more every day. Deep down Americans want to win again and whether you like him or not, Trump represents accomplishment and winning.
Would evangelicals prefer a Donald Trump without the observable warts? Of course. And for sure, evangelical voters will not all coalesce around Trump. It was never going to be that way. They are going to have to weigh the pros and cons and arrive at a comfortable place. They might feel a bit more comfortable if they observed his private side, something I’ve been able to witness over many years. It’s a humbler, softer, gentler Donald Trump, someone who believes that when it comes to getting deals done behind closed doors, a more modest approach is required.
“I can understand the evangelicals to a certain extent saying, ‘Well, maybe he’s not as nice as we want him to be,’ but they also want to see the country be great,” Trump told me recently. He spoke those words while sitting in a cozy chair as I interviewed him at his majestic golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Maybe he should have delivered them lying down on a couch talking with Dr. Phil. It would make one heck of an episode. The ratings would be “yuuuuuge, the best Dr. Phil ever had.” Trump hopes evangelicals give him yuuuuuge ratings, too.
David Brody is the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The Brody File on CBN News.