By Bill Rauch
Widespread disgust with Washington’s ways has given rise in the current presidential primary season to the twin phenomena of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, outsiders who say clearly and convincingly that if they are elected President, they will do things differently in the nation’s capital.
Of these two, because he is a “billionaire businessman” and because as a reality TV star he was known for his signature catch phrase “You’re fired!” (Excepting the brilliant David Petraeus, who has the current administration fired?), and because he has never before tarnished himself by running for elective office, Trump is the most different.
And as such he is on a roll.
But elections don’t get certified until all the votes are in. And the Trump campaign still faces a significant challenge in Iowa and South Carolina where GOP voters who describe themselves in exit polls as “Evangelical” typically comprise the majority of both states’ GOP primary electorates.
The Trump campaign knows this, of course, and they have been discreetly working the Evangelical vineyards since before the candidate declared. Seasoned professionals, they have reportedly been saying all the right things, as has reportedly the candidate when he has been brought in.
The New York-based former casino owner has even picked up a tacit Evangelical endorsement or two, like the one he received from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. who, in introducing candidate Trump to the college’s 11,000 students, compared him to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Jesus Christ as someone who speaks the truth even when it is unpopular.
Some listen to the words. Others watch the hands.
Dr. Carl Broggi, Senior Pastor at the Community Bible Church in Shell Point has met personally with Candidate Trump and the pastor’s support has been courted for the past six months by Trump’s managers. Pastor Broggi has also met with Senator Ted Cruz and been courted by the Cruz managers. Other camps have reached out to him as well.
“A lot of Evangelicals are suspicious of Trump,” Pastor Broggi said last week. “We have been ‘played’ by past candidates who have made promises and then not kept them.”
Candidate Trump says almost all the things that Evangelicals would like to hear, or at least he tries to. He refers, for example, to The Bible as his “favorite book.” But when he was addressing the Liberty University students last week he flubbed his Biblical reference, saying the verse he was quoting could be found in “Two Corinthians,” a book in the Bible that is universally called “Second Corinthians.”
The candidate raised more eyebrows in Lynchburg (and lit up the Twitter-verse) when in his exuberance there he wove a “we don’t know what the hell we’re doing” and a “damn computers” into his text, word choices that bring reprimands and fines to Liberty University students.
Twice-divorced Candidate Trump says he’s “a good Presbyterian,” although when he and his third wife go to church he says they go to the late Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church at 5th Avenue and 29th St. in Manhattan, a Reformed Church of America congregation. A Marble Collegiate Church spokesman has confirmed the Trumps do not attend services regularly.
When he goes the candidate says he receives Holy Communion, a privilege he described to CNN last week as “I drink my little wine, have my little cracker.”
But it isn’t just these awkward moments that arouse the suspicions of Evangelicals.
On the central Evangelical tenet of repentance, Pastor Broggi observed last week, “Donald Trump says, ‘My faith is in my own goodness. That is what will get me into Heaven.’ But that is not what Evangelicals believe. Jesus said, ‘Unless you repent you will perish. Forgiveness can only be received on the basis of my death on the cross.’”
In an October 1999 appearance on ‘Meet the Press’ Trump was asked, “Would President Trump ban partial birth abortion?”
Stressing his New York (Manhattan) values, Trump replied: “No, I am pro-choice in every respect as far as it goes. But I just hate it.”
However, in the recent debates candidate Trump has consistently said he is “pro-life.”
“People change,” Pastor Broggi says. “But when they do, can they be counted on to stay changed?”
How church-going voters in Iowa and South Carolina answer privately that question will go a long way toward determining the outcomes of those contests.