Donald Trump has given certain types of evangelicals a voice, and they have delivered a loud and resounding message to the establishment politicians at the polls — we are mad.
These evangelicals are the ones who have been fueling Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's meteoric push toward the party's nomination and they are angry and looking for vengeance, says Dr. Anthony B. Bradley, and evangelicalism is not among their top concerns as they head to the polls.
"Trump evangelicals are evangelicals who have been on the margins. They are not mainstream evangelicals who are burdened by the sort of traditional concerns of the church. Trump evangelicals are angry. They are mad at the Obama administration. They believe that the Obama administration has ruined the country," said Bradley, chairman of the program in religious and theological studies who also serves as associate professor of religious studies at King's College in New York City, in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday.
And that's why other candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have been getting walloped at the polls as the twice-divorced, formerly "very pro-choice" New York billionaire who curses and says things like "Two Corinthians" notches win after win.
For months, Trump has been declaring "the evangelicals love me and I love them" but no one took him seriously with candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who had positioned themselves as more mainstream standard bearers of evangelicalism.
When Cruz announced his bid for the White House at Liberty University, the world's largest Christian university, last year, he imagined "millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values." The expectation was that he would be their candidate, but it was Trump, the candidate Cruz criticized for his "New York Values," who message resonated most with a certain bloc of evangelicals.
"They are mad because they see that their jobs have been lost to globalization. They fear the threat of loose immigration in terms of how it affects their own neighborhoods. In terms of things like jobs … they are extremely distrustful of politicians," said Bradley who described them as more like "cultural evangelicals."
"They have had it with Washington D.C. They have had it with politics as usual. They cannot stand outside special interests from lobbyists and so both Rubio and Cruz represent the establishment Republicans that Trump evangelicals can't stand. So Donald Trump is speaking right to the heart and core concerns of the types of evangelicals that have been ignored probably over the last 10 -15 years," Bradley continued.
There is a strong socioeconomic divide that now trumps the usual values voting message that both Cruz and Rubio have ignored to their own peril, said Bradley.
"The kinds of concerns that the establishment evangelicals, the institutional evangelicals care about are the kinds of issues that people like Cruz and Rubio are speaking to. The kinds of issues that Trump evangelicals care about, the establishment and institutional evangelicals do not really address," he said.
"These are primarily working class and lower middle class people who want the America back that they grew up in. They want the America back where there were jobs in smaller towns. They want the America back where there wasn't that sort of liberal encroachment on all sorts of institutions from public schools and churches. They want the America back that gives them and their children the projection that they'll be able to make it in small town America. They want that America back and Donald Trump speaks directly to those concerns," said Bradley.
"When he [Trump] says things like 'Make America Great Again,' he's speaking right into the core concerns of the types of evangelicals who care more about America than they do evangelicalism. They don't need Trump to be a moral leader. They don't care about the number of divorces he's had, they don't care about his character, they care about the fact that he finally speaks for them. Finally they have someone who articulates the sorts of fears, and cares and concerns that the establishment and institutional evangelicals have been slow to care about and respond to and to do it in such a way that makes them believe that there is hope for real change," he explained.
"Cruz doesn't do that. The types of evangelicals that support Trump don't trust Cruz. They've seen him flip-flop on all sorts of issues, they believe him to be the sort of slippery politician that Washington D.C. produces and so he doesn't appeal to them at all. Donald Trump is clear, he is articulate in terms of reducing things to really simple sayings and aphorisms that makes sense to the types of evangelicals who care about the sorts of things that he directly speaks to," Bradley added.
Trump supporter Pastor Robert Jeffress of the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, where voters will go to the polls on March 1, in the Super Tuesday voting bonanza, sees things a bit differently. He told NPR that evangelicals are now divided between camps of idealists and pragmatists and Trump's supporters are pragmatists.
"The idealist are the ones who are supporting Ted Cruz and would say if we could just get a strong Christian in the White House, perhaps we could return our nation to its Judeo-Christian foundation. But then there are the pragmatists who say as much as we would like to have a faith-centered candidate, perhaps our country has moved too far to the left for that to happen, and so let's get the most conservative candidate who is electable. And many of those are going for a Donald Trump," said Jeffress.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of The Christian Post, said the excitement over Trump is driven by irrational populism.
"This is an old strain in American politics. This is populism and populism is from the gut. Not from the brain," said Land.
"People that are old like me remember that in 1968 you had this same kind of irrational response. People's first choice was George Wallace and their second choice was Robert Kennedy. And people's first choice was Robert Kennedy and their second choice was George Wallace. But that makes no rational sense, but if it's all emotion, if it's all gut, if it's all simple answers, if it's all expressing your anger and frustration it does make sense," explained Land.
"Donald Trump is appealing to a lot of people, a lot of working class whites who feel like, especially males … that the government doesn't care about them, the Washington establishment exists for its own self, not for the people, their government doesn't care about them and they have been taken advantage of and they've been ignored and they've been forgotten and they are mad as heck," he continued.
"And Donald Trump comes along as sort of a blue collar billionaire, articulating their anger and trumpeting their anger and their frustration and acting out the political incorrectness they'd like to act out but they are intimidated about acting out in their culture.
"So when he speaks about women in derogatory ways, they like it. That's the way they feel but they can't say it. When he talks about Vicente Fox saying 'we're not gonna build that blanking wall' and he's asked 'what's your response' and he goes 'it just got 10' taller' [His supporters go] 'that's right.'"
Land questioned the bona fides of the Trump supporters who self-identify as evangelicals in exit polling and charged that true evangelicals vote their values. He also noted that the Bible did not call Christians to be pragmatic when it comes to their faith.
"I vote my values, my beliefs and my convictions, I'm not pragmatic. Which means I don't compromise my values, beliefs and convictions for what I may perceive to be my own narrow self-interests. I don't see pragmatic in the New Testament, I see being salt and light," said Land.
"I've said it before, I will say it again. If we're gonna be salt and light, as Jesus commanded us to be, we need to vote our values our beliefs and our convictions. If I am forced to choose between a Jewish woman who is running on a platform of raising my taxes by 50 percent, but she is gonna protect unborn babies and she is running against a Southern Baptist friend of mine, whose gonna lower my taxes by 50 percent but is gonna protect a woman's supposed right to kill her unborn baby, I'm gonna vote for babies and against my pocketbook every time because I don't want to have to explain to Jesus someday why I thought my pocket book was more important than unborn babies," added Land.
He further noted that he understands why many people find Trump more appealing than Cruz or Rubio.
"I think that the problem is he talks in everyday, plain language. He is a master communicator, he's learned that from his television experience. He doesn't talk in politicalese. He doesn't talk in political indirect terms, he talks in very plain simple language in which he has plain simple answers to complex problems," said Land.
"And there is a reason why his biggest appeal is among non-college educated people. High school graduates, working class, lower middle class people. And if he does get the nomination frankly, I think he will be a lot harder to beat than some people think he will.
"He throws the political map out the window. He puts New York in play. You don't think there are a lot of policemen and firemen, and union workers in New York that will tell their union bosses to go take a hike they'll vote for Donald Trump? Because he is saying exactly what they think," said Land. "Same thing in Chicago, same thing in Los Angeles. He puts states in play that haven't been in play for a long time."
Despite these possibilities, however, Land says he is worried about Trump's malleability.
"Of course to me the biggest danger with Donald Trump is we have no idea what Donald Trump will do if he were president because Donald Trump doesn't have any idea what he would do. He is flying by the seat of his pants. He doesn't have any deep-seated political philosophy. He has no real philosophical or political moorings. And so he could do wildly irrational things on the same day," he noted.