This is going to be brief. So, it's got to be blunt.
This is precisely what Donald Trump, national GOP front-runner but second place in Iowa, told an Iowa crowd this week while stumping for votes.
Just remember this -- you gotta remember, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay? Just remember that … just remember.
Got that? Those are his words. A Cruz spokesperson has said camp Cruz is "confused" by Trump's statement. We will not dedicate time, space or energy to parsing those words in ways that might offer some alternative meaning than the one most evident and likely, which would be this: Donald Trump thought it would advance his political aims if voters in Iowa were reminded that Ted Cruz is a Cuban (technically half-Cuban) and/or cast doubt on whether Cruz is a true evangelical.
This comes from the the ever-useful section of campaign play books that say tell voters why your competition is "not like us."
You might give such activities whatever label you prefer. We've seen the term "veiled." We think blatant effort to question's someone else's story and/or beliefs for political gain or ignorance and disdain for current and accurate information might pair nicely. So, what we will deal with here are some facts.
First, Donald Trump's knowledge of the Cuban religious diaspora is, apparently, limited and outdated.
In Cuba right now, Protestant and Protestant Evangelical churches are experiencing rapid membership growth. In the United States, Latino-Americans with ancestral and direct links to many different Latin American countries, including Cuba, are driving some of the only growth in many Protestant denominations. Latino evangelicals represent the fastest-growing religious group in the United States. Some are Cuban-American evangelicals.
To be clear, the majority of American Latinos are Catholic. But the share who are Catholic slid from 67 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2013. During that same period, the share of Latinos who described themselves to researchers as evangelical grew from 14 to 18 percent. And all indications are that this trend has continued. In 2014, nearly a quarter -- 24 percent -- of all Latino adults were raised Catholic but no longer call themselves Catholics.
On top of this, by 2007, more than half of Latino Catholics, compared to 1 in 8 non-Latino Catholics, describe themselves as charismatic, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. That means the majority of Latino Catholics were committed to the church and its traditional teachings and also say they have "witnessed or experienced occurrences typical of spirit-filled or renewalist movements, including divine healing and direct revelations from God," according to the Pew report.
None of this is a research-world secret. These phenomena have been written about in Time magazine, in The Washington Post, in the New York Times and on CNN as well as and publications published by several protestant denominations and religious information outlets many, many times.
Finally, Ted Cruz is a self-identified evangelical and the son of an evangelical -- and many would say extremely conservative -- Cuban-American pastor. We have no more reason or authority to doubt that than Donald Trump's declarations that he is a life-long practicing Christian, even if he cannot name a Bible verse. That is between Trump and his God.
Now, as for why Trump said what he said and when he said it, there are a few facts that can also be offered here.
First, Donald Trump is trailing Ted Cruz in Iowa by nearly three points in Real Clear's average of state polls. So changing that, like all campaign activities, is the most likely goal. There's also some reason for Trump to believe that turning to a classic "us versus them," "he's not like us" campaign tactic will work. It has worked many, many times before. And, there is evidence to suggest that it is a tactic that is particularly effective with Republican voters when combined with some sort of racial, ethnic or religious component. What evidence you say?
Well there are the litany of polls showing far greater Republican support for concepts floated by Trump such as a temporary ban on Muslim immigration; interning or tracking Muslims in the United States and requiring Muslims to carry or display some form of special identification and ejecting Syrian refugees from the United States who have already been admitted. And there are the many polls showing that Trump's standing surged with voters often after voicing these very ideas.
Also adding to the evidence that "he's not like us" arguments (with a racial, ethnic or religious gooey center) are a body of studies showing that Republican voters are particularly responsive to these sorts of appeals -- the most recent of which Wonkblog's Max Ehrenfreund wrote about in some detail this week. A team of Stanford University researchers found that producers working to produce anti-Obama ads frequently darkened his skin or selected images where Obama's skin appears notably dark.
That was especially true in ads that aimed to critique Obama or to connect him with certain issues such as crime. The practice builds on the work of other ad-makers and political operatives responsible for things like the infamous Willie Horton ad and the now much-written-about "Southern Strategy."
In short, it is not a coincidence that each of these things were created and deployed in the interest of Republican candidates.