Evangelicals’ support for Trump may be temporary
Carson leads in Iowa among religious bloc’s voters
Donald Trump is leading among evangelical Republican voters nationally, but those on the ground in Iowa, where religious conservatives play an outsize role in picking GOP presidential nominees, say they can’t see it lasting.
The rise of Ben Carson among evangelical voters underscores their tenuous support for the billionaire businessman, and lingering questions about Mr. Trump’s own faith, plus the usual rhythms of the political cycle, will likely reel him in, analysts said.
“As the season changes we get a bit more serious — it’s when people realize this caucus is coming up, and we’re going to have to go to the local precinct, stand up in front of a group and say who we support and why,” said Craig Robinson, editor in chief of the Iowa Republican. “As the race nears, social conservative voters will find their way back to their more natural harbors in terms of candidate selection.”
That appears to already be happening, with Mr. Carson narrowing the gap with Mr. Trump in Iowa. A Quinnipiac University Poll released on Friday found Mr. Carson easily winning over bornagain evangelical voters, with support from 27 percent of those surveyed, compared with 20 percent for Mr. Trump. The poll echoes earlier results found by the most recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Poll, in which Mr. Carson beats Mr. Trump with Christian conservatives by a 7-point margin, with several poll respondents describing Mr. Carson as “a kind Christian whom they can trust.”
Mr. Carson himself seemed to provoke the issue last week when asked to differentiate himself from Mr. Trump and pointing to his own beliefs: “Probably the biggest thing — I’ve realized where my success has come from, and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God.”
Mr. Trump pushed back, and by week’s end Mr. Carson was easing off his attack.
Still, activists wondered whether either man will be religious conservatives’ pick in the end.
“Trump and Carson are viewed positively by many the same way — they’re both successful, both outsiders,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Social Leader, a social conservative organization based in Iowa. “Historically, though, those on top of the polls with evangelical voters and Iowa caucus voters on September 10 are usually not the ones leading the polls on January 10. In other words, you have a lot of game yet to be played.”
Both Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump were absent from the rally held in support of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, whereas the two candidates most likely to win over Iowa evangelicals, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, were both there.
Mr. Carson has come out in support of Ms. Davis, but Mr. Trump said it was not the right job for her.
Mr. Trump has also hit plenty of sour notes with evangelical voters, including at Mr. Vander Plaats’ own Family Leadership Summit in July, where Mr. Trump spoke about his faith but admitted he’s never sought forgiveness for his sins.
When moderator Frank Luntz asked Mr. Trump directly if he’s ever asked God directly for forgiveness for his actions, Mr. Trump replied: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”