Wait! Donald Trump isn't the anointed leader of the Religious Right after all?

OK, is everyone ready for tonight's next big contest linked to good and evil and the religion beat?

No, I am not talking about game two in the World Series, although as a new semi-New Yorker (living in the city two months out of the year, including some prime baseball weeks) I will be cheering for a comeback by the team that I totally prefer to the Yankees. And when it comes to baseball and God, as opposed to the baseball gods, you still need to check out Bobby's post on that missionary named Ben Zobrist.

No, I am talking about the latest gathering of GOP candidates for the White House, which is always good for a religion ghost or two or maybe a dozen.

Right now, the mainstream media has its magnifying glasses out to dissect the theological and cultural views of the still mysterious Dr. Ben Carson, which was the subject of my GetReligion post this morning ("A complicated trinity in the news: Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Ellen G. White").

This is a very interesting development, in part because -- when it comes to press coverage of moral conservatives -- it represents such a snap-the-neck turnaround from the gospel according to the pundits that was in fashion just a few weeks ago.

What has changed? Check out this material at the top of this New York Times pre-debate poll story!

For the first time since The Times and CBS News began testing candidate preferences in July, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has displaced Donald J. Trump as the leader of the large Republican field, although the difference is well within the poll’s margin of sampling error. The churn in the field suggests more volatility as the contest draws closer to the primaries early next year.
Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump draw support from different segments of the Republican electorate, with Mr. Carson winning the allegiance of evangelicals and self-described conservatives. Mr. Trump does better among Republican primary voters who do not have a college education and with those who are not evangelical.
The two wings of the party also differ on issues ranging from taxes and immigration to gun control and same-sex marriage.

Wait a minute! What happened to the whole Trump Is The Evangelical Hero storyline (lots of GetReligion coverage here) that generated all of those headlines, even as mainstream evangelical leaders were silent or hostile to the reality-TV star's ascent (my Universal syndicate column on that is right here)? Now Trump is now appealing to a different wing of the party?

Now, it is clear that Trump has the ears of SOME evangelical Protestants and even some of their leaders. But who are they? You should check out Julia Duin's recent post, "New York Times magazine finally connects Donald Trump with prosperity theology."

So as you grab your popcorn and sit down for tonight's two showdowns (for me, baseball on TV and GOP on Twitter, after I get home from Vespers), look for signs that these new numbers are pushing Trump into tricky territory on social issues. And look for Carson trying to land the support of mainstream believers and their leaders.

Oh, and will the folks running the debate (must-read M.Z. "GetReligion emeritus" Hemingway post here at The Federalist) realize that not all evangelicals see the world, and politics, the same way?

Here's one more glimpse into the head-spinning recalculations that some journalists are having to do, when it comes to Trump being the choice of the Bible-thumpers. Check out this section of a piece at The Atlantic, under this dramatic double-decker headline:

Are Evangelicals Losing Faith in Trump?
Many leaders of the church have already denounced the billionaire’s non-Christlike antics and now others may be following suit

And some important summary material, well down in the text:

... A funny thing happens when you shift your gaze from the pews to the pulpit. Everyday evangelicals praise Trump’s straight talk and anti-establishment bluster, but prominent pastors, insiders, advocates, and academics are much less impressed. Evangelical leaders, as it turns out, loathe Trump. World magazine’s survey of more than 100 evangelical leaders in September found them favoring Marco Rubio first, then Ted Cruz, then Carly Fiorina. In that survey, only 1 percent of leaders named Trump as their first choice. That’s the same percentage of the leaders that favored Hillary Clinton, and fewer than picked Jim Webb.
It’s not just that evangelical leaders prefer other candidates. Many have been actively speaking out against Trump, occasionally almost apoplectic in their frustration over his continued popularity. Thomas Kidd, who participated in World’s survey, wrote last week that he “will not support Trump under any circumstances, and I would use what little influence I have to stop him from being elected president.” Kirsten Powers, a Fox News commentator who was until very recently an evangelical (she converted to Catholicism earlier this month), called Trump a scam artist and “a dangerous megalomaniac with a distorted sense of reality,” and called for evangelicals to “wake up.” Eric Teetsel, the director of the Manhattan Declaration, has been outspoken against Trump for months. “Now are we done?” he tweeted this summer after Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness for his sins.
Most notable is the drumbeat of scorn from Russell Moore, the influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. With 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination. Moore, who generally takes a milder tone than his predecessors, has been sharply critical of the candidate in interviews with CNN, Politico, and NPR (“He’s someone who is an unrepentant serial adulterer”), among others. And, in September, he contributed a scathing op-ed in The New York Times that slammed Trump’s insults to Hispanics, his “Bronze Age warlord” attitude toward women, and his trivialization of communion as “drink my little wine ... have my little cracker.” 

Gosh, that sounds exactly what the vast majority of mainstream evangelical leaders have been saying all along. Isn't that amazing?

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