Time for a religion-beat flashback to a few short months ago. Does anyone remember when most of the mainstream press was absolutely sure that Donald Trump was the darling of evangelical voters from sea to shining sea? Click here for some background on that.
The only problem, of course, is that the GOP field was (and is) so gigantic that the evangelical vote was split a dozen different ways and Trump's modestly large chunk consisted primarily of born-again folks who rarely visited pews. And then there was that interesting WORLD magazine poll of evangelical leaders that found Trump at the bottom of the barrel. I mean, even NPR spotted that poll.
Now, with real, live caucuses and primaries still in the future, the state of mind among evangelical voters remains a crucial variable for Republicans. Ask Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio.
This brings me to an important new Washington Post piece that ran under the headline, "Evangelical leaders are frantically looking for ways to defeat Donald Trump."
Now, your GetReligionistas rarely critique the work of former GetReligionistas. However, it's hard to avoid mentioning one of our former colleagues when she goes to work in a setting as prominent as the Post. So let's just consider this report from Sarah Pulliam Bailey a kind of weekend think piece, to help update readers on the whole Trump-and-evangelicals thing. You can also consider this a promotional piece to to show newsroom managers why they should hire experienced religion-beat professionals.
Now, here's what I want you to do. I want you to read this Post story and then answer this question: What was the most shocking sentence in this report?
OK. Read the story.
Now, are you done? Read to answer the question?
Let's give the cheaters (those who didn't follow directions and read the whole story) a hint. The shocker is found in this chunk of Sarah's report:
... In Iowa, where evangelicals can have the biggest early impact, evangelical voters are moving behind Cruz. According to a Monmouth University survey released Monday, Cruz has 30 percent support from Iowa evangelicals, followed by Trump (18 percent), Rubio (16 percent) and Carson (15 percent).
There are no representative surveys of all evangelical leaders, but informal indicators suggest little support for Trump among elites. Rubio led an October survey of board members of the National Association of Evangelicals asking which candidate they support -- including Democratic candidates. Rubio also led an informal survey of 103 evangelical leaders and “insiders” by WORLD magazine, with Cruz and Carly Fiorina also receiving support. Only 1 percent picked Trump.
Cruz has also seen a handful of high-profile endorsements and is expected to win among evangelical voters in Iowa. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and an influential leader among some evangelicals, told The Washington Post that he is endorsing Cruz.
See it now?
If you have been following life on the religion beat for the past quarter century or more, like your GetReligionistas, you almost certainly were shocked by these words -- "James Dobson ... told The Washington Post."
Now what do those words tell you?
Well, I don't know who DIDN'T return Sarah's calls and emails while she was researching this story, but you have to know that if Dobson responded (this is not a man known for his love of the mainstream press) then lots of other evangelical folks got back to her, as well.
Simple stated: This is why editors need to hire people with experience on the religion beat, or even experience in some of the more nuanced corners of the beat. You have a better chance getting calls and emails returned when religious leaders have some experience with a skilled reporter, especially if that experience consists of being quoted fairly and accurately.
Back to the story:
“I am very wary of Donald Trump,” Dobson said in his email, citing Trump’s business in gambling. “I would never vote for a king pin within that enterprise. Trump’s tendency to shoot from the hip and attack those with whom he disagrees would be an embarrassment to the nation if he should become our Chief Executive. I don’t really believe Trump is a conservative. Finally, I would never under any circumstance vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Dobson’s position characterizes the point of view of many evangelical leaders who are seeking ways to defeat Trump. Many dislike his involvement in gambling and are uncomfortable with his statements. For instance, some leaders cited his reported comments about his daughter’s figure, including: “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
The sense of urgency among many evangelical leaders to defeat Trump became clear this week after he proposed that Muslims be temporarily halted from immigrating to the United States.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Trump’s comments this week “provided a sense of clarity” and sparked a backlash among evangelicals.
“Anyone who is familiar with the First Amendment and basic rights of due process in this country would revolt at the idea of what Trump was proposing,” Moore said.
This story is a big signpost on the road to the GOP nomination. Read this one carefully, folks.