Donald Trump has already exceeded expectations this election season, winning over a group that most commentators thought would categorically reject him: evangelical Christians.
Their support helped the GOP presidential candidate win the South Carolina primary on Saturday. “Of the 65 percent of Republican voters who identify as evangelicals, a third of them cast their ballot for Trump, more than any other candidate,” The Washington Post reported.
This data point joins a variety of other polls that have confirmed Trump’s popularity among evangelical Christians. More than one-in-three white evangelical Republican voters (37 percent) across the country support Trump, compared to 20 percent who support Ted Cruz, according to an NBC News/ Survey Monkey poll from last month.
Many faith leaders, religion researchers and political analysts remain baffled.
The Post article, written by historian Joseph Loconte, offers a possible explanation: Christians like to feel protected, even when their protector isn’t very Christ-like.
“Facing a political culture increasingly hostile to their beliefs — and a government riding roughshod over their religious freedoms — evangelicals believe Mr. Trump will be the best guardian of their liberties,” Loconte wrote.
He compared Trump’s appeal to Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, who enjoyed the support of Pope Leo around the turn of the 9th century.
“It didn’t matter that Charles had multiple wives and mistresses. Nor did it trouble the pontiff that he had a reputation for ruthlessness,” Loconte wrote. “Here was a political leader who knew how to get things done, who could get tough with the church’s enemies, who could protect the empire. … Sound familiar?”
Religious voters have already had to overlook a number of high-profile gaffes from Trump, like when he referred to the book of the Bible as “Two Corinthians,” tried to put his offering money in the communion plate and publicly sparred with Pope Francis.
In spite of stumbles, Trump has prevailed so far over Cruz, an evangelical preacher’s son, and Marco Rubio, who regularly addresses his Catholic faith.
“There is an absurdity in seeing Donald Trump trying to play the role of 2016 religion referee,” wrote BuzzFeed’s senior political reporter McKay Coppins in a January column for The New York Times. “This is a man whose … most famous religious experience is having reportedly struck up a romance with his second wife among the pews of a Manhattan church (while he was still married.)”
In his Post article, Loconte argued that evangelical Christian voters should recognize this absurdity, too, before they face the consequences of aligning themselves with the wrong protector.
“Charlemagne wielded as much influence in church affairs as the pope himself. He appointed and deposed bishops, changed the church liturgy, wrote new rules for monastic life and dispatched agents to dismiss priests,” Loconte wrote. “By consecrating a brutal political authority, the Catholic Church eventually gambled away its reputation.”