John L. Micek, 1/22/2016 [Archive]

The Holy War: Trump vs Cruz

By John L. Micek

He's been married three times. He cusses on stage. He can't tell his Corinthians from his Acts. And he owns casinos ... with stripppperrsssss ...

On paper, billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump ought to be Sodom & Gomorrah in pinstripes. And that combover is surely the Devil's work, right?

But as the ever-crucial Iowa caucuses approach, the ex-reality TV star is dueling with his nearest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for the hearts and minds of evangelical voters who could hand each the keys to an important earthly kingdom: The Republican nomination.

"I have a great relationship with God," Trump, a Presbyterian, told CNN -- though that relationship can sometimes seem forced. The New Yorker has repeatedly called The Bible his favorite book, but has struggled to name a favorite verse, multiple news outlets have reported.

During an appearance at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University in Virginia, Trump mangled the Good Book, referring to "Two Corinthians," rather than "Second Corinthians."

It netted him some chuckles from the Scripture-literate crowd of students, The Washington Post reported.

Though not a dominant part of the national electorate, evangelical voters play an outsized role in the GOP nominating process. And that accounts, in large part, for the very fiery rhetoric you've been hearing out of the leading candidates.

And Trump, who led Cruz 31 to 29 percent in Iowa in a a recent Quinnipiac University poll, has spent much of the last week trying to win them over.

And it's an approach that seems to be working: Trump took the support of 42 percent of evangelical voters in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, compared to 25 percent for Cruz.

But those same voters are quick to acknowledge that their support for Trump has less to do with matters godly and more to do with matters Earthly: They think he's the best situated to beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in this fall's general election.

"He is the only one who can pull us back from the abyss," John Juvenal, of Oklahoma City, told The New York Times.

Polling data suggests that Trump, despite his apparently fallen ways, shares a key concern with these conservative Christians: a sense that the nation is broken and has lost its way.

"We're going to protect Christianity," Trump said at Liberty, according to The New Republic. "You look at the different places and Christianity, it's under siege. I'm a Protestant, I'm very proud of it, Presbyterian to be exact, and proud of it, very, very proud of it, and we've got to protect because bad things are happening, very bad things are happening. ... We don't band together ... other religions, frankly, they are banding together."

Two-thirds of all respondents to that New York Times/CBS News poll said the country was headed in the wrong direction, while nearly six in 10 of all respondents to the poll said Trump "shared their values."

The grassroots support comes even as conservative Christian leaders are tut-tutting about their flock's preference for The Donald.

"How much does the average evangelical Christian supporting Trump know about his history," John Sternberger, president of Florida Family Action, wrote in a column for CNN. "Very little, it would seem. Many are content to follow the no-nonsense persona, rather than dig into [his] past record."

And if they did that, Sternberger suggested that evangelicals might be shocked to find out that Trump owns a casino with a strip club and has boasted that "he has had sex with with some of the "'top women in the world.'"

Cruz, the son of a pastor, meanwhile, has stuck to core values.

In an interview in New Hampshire with The Dallas Morning News, Cruz said that for "for too long there has been a spirit of fear and timidity in Washington. We should not be ashamed of Christ. We should be willing to speak the truth with a smile."

The fight for this narrow slice of the American electorate comes, ironically, as the nation, at-large, becomes less religiously observant, according to Pew Research Center data released last year.

Trump, speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper, said his wild days are behind him:

"I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think," Trump told Tapper. "I'm talking about over the last number of years, I'm leading a very good life. I try to lead a good life and I have. And frankly, (it's) the reason I'm doing so well in Iowa."

So that may leave Iowa caucus-goers asking themselves a very important question on Feb. 1: WWTDD... or "What Would The Donald Do?"

——

©Copyright 2016 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at jmicek@pennlive.com.

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