Businessman Donald Trump has surged in the polls in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and evangelicals, an important base for the Republican Party, appear to favor him as well.
Ahead of Thursday night’s debate in Cleveland, the first debate of the GOP primary, Trump appears to be tapping into Republican voters’ deep fears over the economy. And Republican-leaning white evangelicals, who hold sway in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, seem to closely mirror other Republicans.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted July 16-19, 20 percent of Republican-leaning voters who are white evangelicals support Donald Trump, compared to 24 percent of GOP voters overall and 25 percent of other white Christians (non-evangelicals and Catholics) who support him.
Trump saw his campaign take off after broadly denouncing Mexicans who cross the border illegally, calling them rapists and drug dealers. He also drew attention for saying Sen. John McCain is not a war hero. In the same Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, where he made those comments, Trump was questioned about whether he asks God for forgiveness.
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “If I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Trump said he participates in Holy Communion.
“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, according to CNN. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’ ”
At a gathering of Southern Baptists this week, Russell Moore, president of the policy arm for the Southern Baptist Convention, warned that it might be too early to take the pulse of evangelical voters.
“I haven’t talked to a pastor yet who is supporting Donald Trump,” said Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an interview with The Washington Post. “I think what’s happening right now is that we’re in the reality TV phase of the presidential campaign where people are looking to send a message rather than hand over the nuclear codes to a person.”
Trump could be reminiscent of Ross Perot, a businessman who ran as an independent presidential candidate in 1992.
“Trump is more flamboyant, but they both tap into that sense of anger a lot of voters had and have,” said John Green, a political science and religion expert at the University of Akron. “Donald Trump’s surge comes partly because Donald Trump is very skilled at getting attention.”
Evangelical voters appear split between other candidates who are trying to catch up to Trump. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee depends on evangelicals for support, but he does not lead among evangelicals as he has in the past. Huckabee (12 percent) is closely competing for evangelical support with former Florida governor Jeb Bush (11 percent) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (14 percent).
Bush made his appeal to 13,000 evangelicals Tuesday in Nashville in an interview with Moore, drawing attention for suggesting that “women’s health issues” could be overfunded. His calls to federally defund Planned Parenthood were cheered by the crowd.
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