One of the more interesting data points to come out of the South Carolina Republican primary is how well Donald Trump did with self described evangelical Christian voters. Interesting – but not surprising.
First, the data: Trump pulled 34% of their vote, compared with 26% for Ted Cruz and 21% for Marco Rubio.
The reason this isn’t surprising? Donald Trump’s following is a cult of personality. Trump’s major selling point isn’t his policies. It’s not his ideology. It’s not even his good looks, his business sense, or his wealth. Trump’s major selling point is his personality. Voters are attracted to an alpha male who leads the pack with swagger and assuredness, charisma and vitality. Most of all, he’s entertaining.
Evangelical Christianity functions the same way. What draws evangelical Christians to any given church? You’ll hear lots of answers, ranging from the atmosphere to the style of worship to the particular beliefs being espoused. But what you’ll also see, almost universally, is that when the pastor of the church changes the makeup of the congregation also changes dramatically.
Tellingly, when people leave the congregation of one church to join another after a pastor change, the church they choose almost always puts the lie to any other reason they’ve given in the past for choosing. The ideology will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The style of worship will be different. Sometimes all of it will be different. Quite often the spectator will choose an entirely different denomination. And yet the congregationalist will once again use one of these reasons to justify his choice.
Sometimes people are honest enough to acknowledge that they just like (or dislike) the pastor. Most of the time they’re not. We all seem to inherently know and accept that that’s a poor reason to choose a pastor, and a far worse reason to choose a different denomination. It’s even worse for someone to admit that the pastor is the reason they chose to become Christian at all – but that happens, too.
Donald Trump may not be an evangelical Christian. But he appeals to them for the same reasons their pastors do. He’s energetic, bold, assertive and strong. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t back down. But above all, he’s interesting.