Donald Trump has a problem with God. Or more specifically, he has a 'God problem.' At least when it comes to voters in South Carolina, for whom Christian faith is often a requirement in a public official. This is simply the reality of the state, not a judgment on religion.
But Donald Trump is not credible when it comes to God. At least, not to folks who take the subject seriously, like they do in the First in the South state. And it already shows.
Last night, I attended an event for Senator Ted Cruz in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The rally was in a large church building, and was packed with people. The crowd was more than enthusiastic, and Rep. Steve King, special guest Glenn Beck, and of course Senator Cruz all included religious themes in their remarks. The crowd most definitely approved.
The event was jam-packed and the atmosphere was excited. The crowd broke into cheers and applause many times, and there were plenty of "testify" moments as members of the audience shouted back to Sen. Cruz, shouted out slams on Trump, or just plain whooped and hollered.
Standing room only at Ted Cruz Rally in fort mill! pic.twitter.com/K5hPB1wn5z
— Preston Davis (@Prestonnnnn) February 12, 2016
One thing that came up several times was Donald Trump's authenticity on the subject, with both King and Beck specifically mentioning the Donald's lack of credibility, even saying the idea that he had ever "cracked open" a Bible was "bullcrap."
After the event, I asked a number of people what they thought, who they were voting for, and what they specifically thought of Trump.
One older couple really stood out for me. The wife was using a walker, and both were bundled against the cold. They took a minute to speak with me about who they were voting for, without using their names.
She told me that she had not decided yet who to vote for, but that she was now considering Ted Cruz for her vote. I asked her who else she had considered and she surprised me when she said Trump, though not enthusiastically. Her husband leaned forward to quickly say Trump more emphatically. I asked them both why they were now considering Ted Cruz, and she responded that he "seemed to know God better," which I thought was a great line. Her husband nodded along with.
I was expecting a more definitive rejection of Trump from the crowd that cheered so loudly the talk of God and booed so thoroughly recounting of his recent comments and language. But generally those leaving were still soft in their opposition to Donald. The thing that was hanging them up was his faith.
Another woman was leaving on her own. Again, she was older and had a cane, though I suspect for health problems not age. I asked her the same questions and she told me that Trump was no longer a consideration for her, though he had been up until that night. I asked her why and she said "he doesn't seem to know about the Bible."
I got the same from a younger couple, who also described Trump as "awful". I met a member of the military who left certain he was going to vote for Trump, but his girlfriend was for Cruz. Far out in the parking lot I met a group of four girls who seemed to be in their twenties, one of whom hollered out "dump Trump!" I asked her why, and she said he was "fake" about God.
The crowd inside was strong in their support of Ted Cruz and everything the speakers said. They did not in any way seem undecided. In the exodus afterward, nearly everyone who I asked about Trump refused to answer. A "don't say anything if you can't say anything nice" attitude still rules in Fort Mill, South Carolina. As a result, nearly all of the few people would talk to me still had, or had previously held, a soft spot for Donald Trump. But after this event, that soft spot was gone.
In South Carolina, faith matters. It is not some small quirk of the electorate. It's a big deal. And Donald Trump's overtures toward seeming to be a faithful, Bible-reading, God-fearing man aren't selling. He'd probably be better off toning down his claim to faith. Right now, they see him as a liar. Both the crowd cheering when King called him a liar on faith, and the few people I met who still held some sympathy toward him. They just don't buy Donald Trump as a Bible man.