Experts Offer 4 Theories of Evangelical Donald Trump Supporters

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 22, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 22, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Jim Young)

With Donald Trump receiving the most evangelical support in the last three Republican primaries, pundits are beginning to opine why more evangelicals are voting for a man who admits that he never asks God for forgiveness rather than staunch conservatives who frequently tout their faith such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Although the speculation leading up to the primary elections was that Texas Senator Cruz, the son of a Baptist pastor, would gain the most support of evangelicals, it was the billionaire real estate mogul who secured over 33 percent of the evangelical vote in Nevada, 40 percent of the evangelical vote in South Carolina and 27 percent of the evangelical vote in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Cruz and Rubio, a practicing Catholic and a senator from Florida, have both failed to attract more 27 percent of the evangelical vote in each of the three state results.

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Theory 1: Prosperity Gospel

Sarah Posner, who is the author of the book God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters and a frequent op-ed contributor to a number of national news sites, believes that Trump is receiving much support from evangelicals because Trump understands their financial "impulses."

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, Posner reasons that Trump is the candidate that is most comparable to a televangelist who taps into the appeal of the prosperity gospel.

"Cruz was supposed to be a messianic figure to save Christian America from its downward secularist spiral," Posner wrote. "But Trump, whose Bible has seemed like more of prop than a campaign-animating principle, understands other impulses of evangelical voters."

"That impulse, which is Trumpism in a nutshell, is the magical thinking of how Americans get rich, whether it's by surviving a reality television show, getting lucky with an investment, winning the lottery or being blessed by God," Posner continued.

Posner explains that the "magical thinking" for many evangelicals, Pentecostals and other Christians, has been expressed through the promises that financial blessing is the will of God.

"Trump draws his most significant support from voters who make less than $50,000 a year," Posner stated. "He has led them to believe that only a rich, successful entertainer can make America great again. Like a televangelist, Trump's success is seen as evidence of his prowess, but even more important, of God's good favor. His supporters seem to believe, too, that he will bring them along for the ride."

Posner also reasons that Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" and his promises to be the "best jobs president that God has ever created" leads some evangelicals to believe that he's like a miraculous "faith-healer."

"America is broken and sick; Trump will cure it, they think," Posner wrote. "He's like the faith-healer who makes the blind man see and the wheelchair-bound woman walk again."

Theory 2: Working Class

In a piece on entitled "Trump's South Carolina Win Shows Evangelicals Aren't Necessarily Voting On Their Faith," Farai Chideya explains that she spoke to one South Carolina Trump voter who explained that he didn't vote for Trump because of faith but rather because he wants "the economy to get back on track."

Dr. Anthony Bradley, an associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York City, told MSNBC that Trump is "speaking to a demographic within evangelism that both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are unable to connect to."

"These are evangelicals who don't read a lot of books, they're not too interested in evangelism having a big impact on America," Bradley said. "They're most likely working class, very middle class, they drink Bud Light. So Trump is communicating to them in a very 'Bud Light' sort of way, and they get him."

Theory 3: They Don't Care That Trump Is Immoral

Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, who has attended a number of Trump rallies, told NPR that he thinks Trump is gaining the support of evangelicals because last June's same-sex marriage ruling "made evangelicals more open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump."

"I think many evangelicals have come to the conclusion we can no longer depend upon government to uphold traditional biblical values. Let's just let government solve practical problems like immigration, the economy and national security," Jeffress said. "And if that's all we're looking for government to do, then we don't need a spiritual giant in the White House. We need a strong leader and a problem solver, hence many Christians are open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump."

Theory 4: Evangelicals In Name Only

Nicole Russell, senior contributor at The Federalist, told MSNBC "the term evangelical does not mean what it used to mean."

"People think that evangelicals are strict conservative, Bible-thumping, Dr. James Dobson-type of people," Russell said. "But that's an outdated definition of what an evangelical is. Now, the term has become so broad and so vague that it really applies to anyone who says they're 'very Christian,' which a lot of people consider themselves."

In a column published by the National Review, David French, a constitutional law attorney formerly with the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the rift in evangelical support between Trump, Cruz and Rubio is showing the "fault lines" in the "three main cultural threads of southern evangelicalism."

French explained that Trump seems to be winning the support of evangelicals who don't vote as evangelicals, while Cruz is winning the support of "true-blue" evangelicals.

As for Rubio, French writes that he seems to be winning when it comes to evangelicals that care about both the candidate's faith and "manner."

"These differences are one reason why I'm a bit skeptical that the SEC primary will clarify whether Cruz or Rubio will emerge as Trump's principal competitor," French opined. "The differences between the Evangelical constituencies are real — with Cruz voters proud of his alienation from Washington and Rubio voters troubled by his apparently divisive personality — and the numbers are substantial enough on both sides to keep both men in the hunt past March 1. Look for the three-man race to continue, in large part because southern Christians are just as divided as the rest of the GOP."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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