Trump’s transparent pandering has been controversial among conservative evangelicals but oddly successful. To be sure, many Christians, including yours truly, have questioned or criticized Trump’s candidacy on moral grounds. Writing at The New York Times, for instance, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore argued that for evangelical Christians to support Trump means “we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. To back Mr. Trump,” Moore summarized, “[evangelical] voters must repudiate everything they believe.”
But polls consistently find Trump at or near the top of evangelical Republicans’ list, so his pandering seems to work.
Huckabee’s outburst and Trump’s farce are two sides of the same phenomenon: the inevitable unraveling of an election dynamic that has become too absurd a caricature to continue. While Cruz seems on track to execute a classic fulfillment of the “Christian candidate” formula, his performance may well be one of the last of its kind. Huckabee might be right: The best GOP candidate for conservative Christians’ political goals may not be the best actual Christian.
That may seem like a frightening prospect for a post-Obama Republican Party searching for its identity as it loses demographic ground. But however the next few elections shake out, disintegration of the GOP’s wrong-headed obsession with the “Christian candidate” is much overdue.