How in the world did the Republican Party get to the point of having a twice-divorced misogynistic playboy, lying insult machine, and monomaniacal reality TV star as their presumptive nominee for president? Even some of my seemingly thoughtful friends have gotten behind the man with the Tang-like hair and complexion. Aside from their mantra of "anyone but Hillary," it appears that a common thread among Trumpists is their distaste for the so-called wimpy presidential style of Obama, showcased by his regular battering by Congress, his so-called apology tours ("Hello Hiroshima and Ho Chi Minh City!"), his failure to follow up with muscle on that red line he drew in Syrian sand, and his un-Putin like persona. (That's right. Some Obama detractors have wished Barack the Conciliator would be more like Vladimir the Invader. What a wonderful role model for kids!)
Trump's projection of strength and confidence has served him well. He's certainly not afraid to say what's on his mind; the "the politically correct" be damned. He also promises to "get things done" in a paralyzed Washington, whether it's building a wall along the Mexican border or bringing the hammer down on China for stealing our jobs.
Strong men — from Julius Caesar to Franco to Mussolini to that swastika-wearing maniac from Germany — usually emerge when a country is at its lowest ebb and in desperate need of leadership. I certainly don't believe that's the case with us now, though it may be a good descriptor of things when Obama took office in 2009 and the country was teetering on an economic precipice. Regardless, Trump and his grandiose campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again!" imply that our nation is on the ropes and in need of a heavyweight champion to punch its way back to the top.
Matthew MacWilliams, a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, recently analyzed a national poll of 1,800 voters. He found that those with an authoritarian personality were most likely to support the authoritarian Trump. Mark Leary, a Duke University professor, was asked by The Christian Post to describe the attributes of such a voter. He listed "rigid adherence to traditional values; the tendency to condemn, reject and punish people who violate those values; and having a submissive, uncritical attitude toward powerful authorities who support and defend one's values and views."
It is never good to generalize, but the above appears to describe some church members who adhere to a strict interpretation of dogma and regularly bemoan the moral malaise of the country. Primary or caucus exit polls from 20 states bear this out. Trump won an average of 36 percent of the vote from white born-again or evangelical Christians. I simply don't get it. Why would these good folks support a foul-mouth philanderer like Trump whose empire is based, in part, on gambling and booze?
What adds to the enigma is that, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/The Atlantic survey released in April, "nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Republican front-runner Donald Trump's supporters believe that the situation in the United States has gotten so far off track that the country needs a leader willing to break some rules to set things right." How often do you see an equation that includes "churchgoers" and "breaking rules"?
There may be an explanation for this seeming contradiction. Southern Illinois University political scientist Tobin Grant analyzed a large sample of National Election Study data derived from 1,200 registered voters. He discovered that "evangelicals who rarely or never attend church are more likely to support Trump than those who attend frequently (22 percentage points higher) or weekly (26 percentage points higher)." So, many in Trump's camp may fancy themselves religious, but spend little time in pews. To me, their religion is one of self-identification and convenience only. It translates not into living the Gospel, but into self-righteousness and a desire for punitive measures against those they dislike or distrust, from undocumented Mexican workers to Muslims.
Whether Trump wins or loses in November, I fear that his brand of authoritarianism is here to stay. This bodes ill for Republicans, especially if the Trumpists and the Tea Party coalesce into their own movement. The shades of 1912's Bull Moose Party are gathering in the wings. Back then they broke with the Republican Party over orthodoxy and paved the way for eight years of Democratic rule. Will history repeat itself?
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.