Two Corinthians walk into a voting booth. On Cruz, Trump and South Carolina’s evangelical vote


Good morning Austin:

When Donald Trump spoke at Liberty University last month he stumbled a bit in quoting scripture.

 “Two Corinthians, right? Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, right? Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ But here there is Liberty College, Liberty University, but when you think that, that’s so true. But is that the one, is that the one you like? Because I loved it, and it’s so representative of what’s taken place. And we are going to protect Christianity.”

That provoked some smirks and snickers, in person and in print, because 2 ‘Corinthians is generally said aloud as Second Corinthians, and Trump, speaking at the world’s largest Christian university, was laying bare his unfamiliarity with Holy Writ.

Campaigning in Iowa, Ted Cruz, who had announced his candidacy for president at Liberty last March, and knows his “2’s” from his “seconds,” had some fun with it.

“Two Corinthians walk into a bar,” he said to knowing laughs at campaign stops ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses, before launching into a quick imitation of Ricardo Montalban’s classic extolling of the virtues of the Chrysler New Yorkers’ rich Corinthian leather.

But Trump had the last laugh. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and son of the founder of both Liberty and the Moral Majority, subsequently endorsed Trump for president, cut a radio ad for him, even came to Iowa to campaign with him.

Here was Jerry Falwell Jr. explaining his endorsement in the Washington Post.

I do believe Trump is a good father, is generous to those in need, and is an ethical and honest businessman. I have gotten to know him well over the last few years and have come to admire him for those traits.

I do not believe, however, that when Jesus said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” that he meant we should elect only someone who would make a good Sunday School teacher or pastor. When we step into our role as citizens, we need to elect the most experienced and capable leaders.

As I said, Jimmy Carter is a great Sunday School teacher but the divorced and remarried Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan saved this nation when it was in nearly the same condition as it is today.

Jesus said “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners.

From Messiah College historian John Fea’s blog:

  •  Trump’s pronunciation is quite common among Christians (and evangelicals) in the United Kingdom and I have heard this pronunciation used many times by American evangelical ministers as well.
  • Most American evangelicals would have said “Second Corinthians 3:17.” Trump’s pronunciation thus shows how little he knows about the American evangelical subculture even as he claims to understand them.  He does not speak evangelicalese.
  • Finally, anyone who thinks that the big story of Trump’s visit to Liberty is how he cited this Bible verse is missing the bigger picture .  From a historical point of view, the Liberty response to Trump illustrates yet another case study of the close relationship between evangelicals and the GOP that began about forty years ago. From the perspective of Christians, Trump’s visit should cause serious concern, especially when Jerry Falwell Jr. holds Trump up as a Christian who follows the Golden Rule, displays Christian “fruit” (he quoted Matthew 7–“by your fruits you shall know them”–to describe Trump in a positive light), and has “radical” ideas just like Jesus did.

Trump, meanwhile, is not one to be laughed at without pointing a finger of blame, as he did on CNN after his Liberty appearance.

Donald Trump says it’s Tony Perkins’ fault he said “two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians” during a speech at Liberty University this week — a mistake that raised questions about his biblical knowledge as he courts evangelical voters.

The Republican presidential front-runner said in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon Wednesday that Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, had given him notes on what to say when he visited the evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“Tony Perkins wrote that out for me — he actually wrote out 2, he wrote out the number 2 Corinthians,” Trump said. “I took exactly what Tony said, and I said, ‘Well Tony has to know better than anybody.’ “

Trump’s pronunciation of the Bible verse drew laughter from the Christian audience — but he downplayed it, saying his Scottish mother would have said “two Corinthians,” as well.

“It’s a very small deal, but a lot of people in different sections of the world say two, and I’ve had many, many people say that to me. My mother, as you know, was from Scotland, and they say two,” Trump said.

 Perkins said Thursday he was “guilty as charged” of writing the verse the way Trump described.

“No, I don’t dispute it at all. I wrote the scripture reference, which is 2 Corinthians 3:17, which is how it’s written,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront.” “I’m guilty as charged. That’s exactly what I did. I sent him a couple of suggestions of some things he could talk about as a connection point.”

“It shows that he’s not familiar with Bible,” Perkins added. “Donald Trump’s a very interesting guy. There are some things about him that I find fascinating, that I like about him, as well as other evangelicals.”

Perkins, who has not yet endorsed a candidate, said “there’s a lot more to consider” before he gets behind a candidate.

Well yes. But on the Wednesday before the caucuses, Perkins came to Iowa to endorse Cruz at a pro-life rally in West Des Moines.

Afterward, I talked to Perkins about 2 Corinthians and about his decision to endorse Cruz, and it turns out the two events were related.


Perkins shrugged about Trump calling him out for not writing out S-E-C-O-N-D CORINTHIANS. He said he likes Trump and has a good relationship with him and wasn’t there to say anything negative about Trump. But he did say that the publicity around 2 Corinthians – which he said is Liberty University’s motto – persuaded him to declare his heart and publicly endorse Cruz to clear up the impression that had been left in the public mind that, because he had advised Trump on his speech at LIberty, he was backing Trump.

So, I suppose, with Perkins’ endorsement, Cruz got the last laugh after all.

Except that as political money in the bank, I suspect Falwell’s endorsement  for Trump was more bang for the buck than Perkins’ endorsement of Cruz.

Last night, Perkins spoke up for Cruz at a Carolina Values Summit at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that was attended by Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was originally scheduled to appear on his own behalf but, after dropping out of the race post-Iowa, spoke on behalf of his new candidate of choice – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The last Winthrop Poll from early December had Trump with 24 percent, Cruz with 16 percent, Carson with 14 percent, Rubio with 11 percent and jeb Bush with nine percent:

Winthrop Poll Director Dr. Scott Huffmon noted, “Trump leads across multiple categories of voters from a high of 35% among those who wish to create a database of Muslims in the U.S. to a low of 22% among Evangelical Christians, who will make up nearly 60% of the S.C. GOP Presidential Primary electorate. Ted Cruz is tied with Ben Carson at 17% among Evangelicals. This is a significant drop for Carson among Evangelicals.  He registered 33% support among this group in a Monmouth Poll a month ago. It is worth noting that 1 in 5 Evangelicals remain undecided.

Polls in January showed Trump maintaining a lead, including among evangelicals, where, according to the most recent NBC/WSJ/Maris poll, Trump was the choice of 33 percent to 25 percent for Cruz.

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As Huffmon noted, Carson has suffered a steep slide.

But, last night in Rock Hill, Carson was even more warmly received than Cruz. Those who have watched Carson disappear in the debates may not appreciate how engaging and compelling he can be in the more relaxed and open atmosphere of his solo appearances before what are really adoring audiences who, whatever they think of his presidential prospects, truly admire and love him.

What those admirers do in South Carolina matters.

Political strategist Arnold Steinberg writing at the conservative American Spectator:

“I really appreciate the support given to me by the evangelicals,” Donald Trump said in a 30-second Iowa ad released two days before the February 1 caucuses and also appearing on Facebook, an ad that might play well in South Carolina. “They’ve been incredible. Every poll says how well I’m doing with them. And you know, my mother gave me this bible, this very bible many years ago.” Trump then holds it up, open to the “Holy Bible” title page. “In fact, it’s her writing here,” he adds, as he flips to the first page. “She wrote the name and my address and it’s just very special to me. And, again I want to thank the evangelicals.” Speaking with conviction, he ends with emphasis and impact: “I will never let you down.” The spot cuts to the words, all caps, white on black: “TRUMP: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

How many of the other candidates could do a sales pitch with the Bible? Rand Paul, possibly after his last debate performance in Iowa but he was on stage only because Trump’s boycott opened a slot, and he has now suspended his campaign. Huckabee or Santorum? Maybe, but even Iowa voters saw these two past winners in their state as anachronistic. And now they are both are out of the race. Scott Walker, a favorite in early, meaningless Iowa polling, dropped out long ago, partly because he was not a closer on camera.

Ted Cruz? His roots in this constituency are deep, yet with a similar ad script, Cruz might have seemed robotic. Even in his lengthy Iowa victory speech, Cruz did not approach intimacy. In contrast, Trump was acting but seemed natural. For several days in Iowa, Cruz was busy fending off inconclusive but unrelenting attacks on his “Canadian citizenship” — Trump planting doubt provided a further excuse for some social conservatives to rationalize Trump. The high-tech Cruz campaign even made a tactical blunder a few days before the Iowa caucus with its controversial mailing to drive voter turnout. The mailing implied the targeted voter had committed a “voting violation” — a deception that turned off a few evangelicals. The maneuver also allowed the Iowa secretary of state to attack Cruz for misleading voters. Can anyone imagine salesman Trump, always a couple of moves ahead in the chess game, authorizing such a blowback mailing?

But who cares, the Cruz people will properly note, their guy placed first. But this is due largely to his tremendous investment of time and money, and an incredible “ground game” volunteer operation. Political novice Trump mistakenly assumed he could win Iowa without a full-scale volunteer operation. Finally, Trump’s refusal to appear at the final debate probably hurt him among undecided voters, who broke considerably for Rubio and Cruz, not for Trump.

Months ago Carson, an impressive man with perhaps the most potential, especially with evangelicals, was on track to win Iowa, but his momentum peaked with lackluster debate performances. Weeks ago Carson’s campaign was in disarray with staff firings or resignations, and then, after Iowa, more downsizing. By contrast, Trump’s do-it-yourself campaign has seemed to be working. Trump makes his decisions unilaterally, and his political instincts have mocked the conventional wisdom. Some evangelicals projected into Trump’s rebellious campaign a rebellion against the secular culture. When the votes were counted in Iowa, Carson — who months ago I would have expected to win Iowa — helped split the evangelical vote and came in fourth. Carson was reduced to raising the specter of a dirty trick by the Cruz camp, spreading a press report, while some caucus voting was still going on, that Carson was getting out of the rate. And Trump orchestrated the escalation of the Cruz-Carson feud. It remains to be seen whether the fallout will hurt Cruz down the line.


Even Trump’s second place showing in Iowa would have been impossible without his improbable support among Iowa religious conservatives, however you label them, and they have given him, rather than denied him, a launching pad. The paradox is that perhaps half the Iowa evangelicals had an unfavorable view of Trump. If Trump continues to do adequately with evangelicals in a multi-candidate primary, those evangelical voters will have “skin in the game.” Certainly, Falwell and other evangelical “leaders” who have endorsed Trump are now far more deeply invested in him as their choice for Republican nominee. Expect them in other states.

But if the race after South Carolina narrows to just Trump, Cruz, and one other (Kasich, Rubio, or Bush), then Trump could face a tougher overall challenge, and well see what happens to evangelicals. Christie and Fiorina already are gone; the former had little evangelical voter following, and Fiorina had claim to “values voters” but, in the end, little support at the polls. If after South Carolina Carson collapses or drops out, those evangelical voters would normally be more supportive of Cruz, but Trump has raised the specter of Cruz using a dirty trick to cheat Carson out of second place in Iowa. It seems like an eternity ago when Trump suggested the world renowned neurosurgeon was just an “OK doctor” and later Trump questioned Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith. Since then Trump has publicly courted “Ben” who, despite his well-known good nature, may harbor bad feelings toward Cruz. Carson may still be going to sleep each night wondering if the Cruz’s campaign’s implication that Carson was dropping cost him four votes per precinct in Iowa, cheating him out of second place, and, if so, was this God’s will, and what is the meaning?

Political analyst Philip Bump, reviewing in the Washington Post the CNN exit polling of voting in Tuesday’s New Hampshire election, pointed out that Trump’s across-the-board victory there almost extended to evangelical voters, where remarkably he and Cruz were basically tied. This finding has profound implications for South Carolina. Pundits keep talking about John McCain’s 2008 victory there over Mitt Romney, partly as a result of the state’s critical fundamentalist Christian vote, amidst a subterranean attack on Romney’s Mormon faith. Next week Cruz needs a home run among South Carolina evangelicals, but it’s unlikely he’ll run the table with them.

Trump wasn’t in Rock Hill last night. He was holding a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

But, in his closing remarks, Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., an African-American Christian preacher and Pentecostal bishop from Maryland, who was the prime convener of the Carolina Values Summit, sounded very much like Jerry Falwell Jr. in describing the criteria that should guide conservative Christian voters in choosing a candidate.

The should look for a candidate who can “lead with vigor, authority and clarity,” he said.

“We all know people in our lifetimes who claim to be great teachers and believers, who taught Sunday school but they didn’t do such a good job as a president,” Jackson said.

“God sometimes uses people who don’t know him right now but who have been put forth, set up to make a difference,” Jackson said. “In the Old Testament there is the story of man name Cyrus and Cyrus was anointed by God to be a deliverer, if you want to call if that, of the Jewish people. So there’s a biblical precedence that some of the greatest deliverances that happened for God’s people came through the agency of folks who were not born again themselves at all but hey had great leadership, great authority, great power”

I talked to Winthrop’s Huffmon yesterday.

He said that 57 percent of the Republican primary electorate – and 69 percent of the Christian Republican electorate – identify as evangelicals.

He said historically, South Carolina evangelicals have not coalesced around a single candidate.

“Cruz is hoping to change the calculus for evangelicals in South Carolina, he is hoping they will coalesce, which normally they won’t. One candidate may have a greater percentage of the evangelicals but they tend to spread themselves out just like other voters. Cruz needs to make South Carolina evangelicals behave a little bit more like Iowa caucus evangelicals.”

“We’re the buckle on the Bible Belt, so as long as any candidate pays homage to religious reasons, that gives anybody who is religious an excuse to support them on any other issue they want to vote on. ‘Well, they’re talking about their faith, I know they’re a good Christian and I want to vote for them for that and blank, and  frankly the and blank is the real reason they are supporting him.”

“So all of the candidates – including He-who-can’t-name-my-favorite-Bible-verse-and-Two-Corinthians – he will say something to reach out to evangelicals and that will give them  a reason hey can vote for him.”

Theologically they can justify it by noting, like Falwell and Jackson have, that “God didn’t choose perfect people. He chose Rahab the prostitute and Matthew the tax collector. These were all imperfect people.”

“As long as they look at somebody and that person pays homage to their Christian belief or heritage it gives them free rein to support the candidate of their choice politically and they will,” Huffmon said, “and Cruz wants to change that and his ability to defeat Trump here depends on it.”





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