Since the start of the 2016 campaign, I have said that I will tell readers when it is time to panic. Well, it’s time to panic. That chilling reality came to me once I realized Donald Trump won a plurality of evangelical voters, 27 percent, in the New Hampshire primary. And according to today’s Monmouth University poll, Trump is poised to win 33 percent of the evangelical vote in South Carolina on Saturday. How can that be?
I wonder if this is the end of the evangelical movement within the Republican Party. Trump’s strength in South Carolina, of all places, is alarming. Many evangelical leaders, who can be so quick to point out the moral failings of others, are strangely silent concerning Trump’s shortcomings. How can they reconcile fidelity to their faith with a vote for Trump? How do they overlook Trump’s personal qualities and behavior? What about the morality of entrusting the presidency to someone with the temperament and questionable judgment we have all witnessed from Trump? I would like some answers. I find it hard to believe evangelicals are supporting Trump because of his policy positions, since he doesn’t have many. They can’t be supporting Trump because of his faith or godliness, and they certainly shouldn’t hide behind Trump’s goofy comments, such as how he “love[s] the Bible” or reads “Two Corinthians.” Come on.
In The Post’s Chris Cillizza’s assessment of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to endorse Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today, he notes some remarkable data on her phenomenal popularity in the state. Cillizza cites a Winthrop University poll showing Haley “with an 81 percent approval rating among likely Republican primary voters.” How can Haley, who is poised, knowledgeable and graceful, have that kind of approval rating — likely anchored by evangelical voters — yet the voters in her state appear ready to hand a victory to the likes of Trump? I realize Trump is getting only a plurality among evangelicals, but there is no hiding the fact that his support appears to be growing. I can’t wrap my brain around how Haley and Trump can co-exist as leaders in the same party.
So what is driving evangelical voters to Trump? His “evolution” on issues such as partial-birth abortion, his personal attacks on his fellow candidates and his lack of credible policies should be enough to make Republican primary voters — and especially evangelicals — pick another candidate.
As a Southerner, it pains me to even ask if Trump is attractive to many evangelicals because of a so-called dog whistle. In Trump’s case, it’s more like a blaring dinner bell. If you feel like your problems are someone else’s fault, Trump is giving you a full buffet of those who might have cost you or held you back. I, along with others, thought Trump’s campaign would implode, but now that I see where he is with evangelical voters, I have my doubts about Trump’s implosion and about those evangelical voters as well.