Donald Trump sprinkles his stump speeches with profanity. He used to support abortion, and says he’s never sought forgiveness from God for his sins. He memorably referred to communion, the Christian sacrament commemorating Jesus’ last supper, as drinking “the little wine” and eating “the little cracker.” The thrice-married mogul calls the Bible his favorite book, but when pressed he couldn’t name his best-loved verse. He says he likes the Old and New Testaments about the same.
This is not the profile of an especially devout man, let alone a presidential candidate cut out to court Christian conservatives.
And yet national polls suggest that Donald J. Trump has forged a real connection with this voting bloc. In a recent New York Times/CBS News survey, the Republican frontrunner earned the support of 42% of evangelicals, far outpacing the rest of the GOP field, including his top rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who garnered 25%. A January NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll also showed Trump with the deepest support among white evangelicals, at 33%.
Of all the head-scratching elements of Trump’s rise in the GOP nominating contest, his success with the religious right may be the most confounding. In a field that features a Baptist preacher (Mike Huckabee), a candidate with a tithe-based tax plan (Ben Carson) and staunch social conservatives such as Cruz and Rick Santorum, a mainline Presbyterian has managed to grab the largest share of the party’s famously demanding values voters.