Take it from an atheist: Even an atheist could have faked a better answer than this. How is it that this guy, with all his billions, didn’t think to hire anyone to teach him to lie convincingly about faith when addressing an audience of Christian conservatives, the key to winning the Iowa caucuses? He should have called the White House. They could have hooked him up with whoever coached Obama on his fake opposition to gay marriage in 2008.

Byron York and the NYT are right that this answer will end up damaging Trump more than his shot at McCain’s war service will.

A senior Iowa Republican who was in the room, sitting with a group of grassroots activists as Trump spoke, was dumbfounded by the candidate’s views of religion. “While there were audible groans in the crowd when Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero,” the senior Republican said via email, “it was Trump’s inability to articulate any coherent relationship with God or demonstrate the role faith plays in his life that really sucked the oxygen out of the room.”

The senior Republican continued: “Milling around talking to activists in the hallways/lobby after Trump’s speech, THAT is what those Iowa conservatives were discussing, not the McCain comment.”…

“Trump’s performance was really a one-two punch,” the Republican said. “His McCain comment gave free license to other candidates and the national political class to attack. His failure to demonstrate even the most rudimentary understanding of leading a faith-filled life will be his ultimate undoing with Iowa’s Christian conservative activists. Especially in a field with such credible alternatives.”

Watch the clip. The bit about him drinking his “little wine” and having his “little cracker” at church is … not Huckabean, shall we say, although I think it’s the second half of the vid that’s more revealing. (The very end includes his bit about McCain, which the video’s editor tacked on for whatever reason.) Luntz tosses him the softest of softballs — “what is your relationship with God?” — and Trump can’t help answering in terms of his personal success, presumably because that’s his yardstick for everything in life. God’s blessed him with an intellect capable of generating some of the great deals in business history; that’s evidence that their relationship’s pretty good, no? Luntz’s question very obviously cries out for the opposite answer, that riches and personal success mean nothing without grace and deep communion with the Almighty. He does note that he prays, but like I say, watch the clip. The mystery here is whether Trump simply misjudged his audience (in Iowa, at a forum devoted to family?) or he’s convinced himself that being his honest, unfiltered self is the key to ultimate victory. This will test that theory better than the McCain thing will.

A rival campaign strategist told York he doesn’t expect Trump to lose support for this so much as he thinks it’ll lower his ceiling in the state. If you’re an evangelical tea partier trying to decide between Trump and, say, Scott Walker or Ted Cruz, this’ll tip the scale towards the latter.