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The Solid South Goes for Trump

Donald Trump’s clean sweep of southeastern states has taken many pundits by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Trump’s performance in the south among evangelical voters is actually quite in keeping with the strain of evangelical conservatism prevalent in the bible belt.

Many moons ago in a prior blogging life I wrote a multi-part series detailing the different strands of American conservatism, and reading it now I may have forecasted the rise of Trump. First, I noted a type of conservatism (cranky conservatism) that seems to typify the Trump voter.

On the other end of the spectrum, the paleo-conservatives and crankycons seem to hate everything.  And yet they are most comfortable with populist schemes that betray the Framers’ original plans.  Their anti-elitism runs so deep that they would bequeath to the masses enormous power.  Their enemies are the ghouls in the academies with their fancy ideas.  But while they would have you believe that they are the true inheritors of the conservative mantle, their philosophy is a deep betrayal of the republican tradition.  Their ultimate designs are no less radical than the hated neocons they so regularly disparage.

Sounds like a typical Trump supporter to me.

As related to religion and conservatism, this is what I wrote back in 2005 (please ignore the horrible misspelling of hear as “here”):

Traditional conservatism is generally less concerned about the temporal world.  This strain of conservatism dates to Augustine, who saw utopian schemes for the foolishness that they were.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that the intellectual impetus behind this brand usually comes from the Roman Catholic Church, or its near neighbors in the Episcopalian version.  Buckley, Kirk, Ponnuru, Reagan: all thinkers who are Catholic or whose religion was close to that of Roman Catholicism.  This is no mere coincidence.

We here a lot about religion and the conservative movement, and indeed religion has played a crucial role in all conservative parties throughout the world.  But what many fail to understand, principally because they fail to understand Christianity is that there are crucial differences in the religious outlook of Evangelicals and Catholics, and these differences play out in the political world.  The steadfast pessimism of the Catholic faith is mirrored in the political outlook of most conservative Catholics.  They see this as a fallen world.  And while we should strive to make this world as good as we can, our expectations for the temporal world should not be so high.  Consequently, we should not put much stock in government and its ability to change the world.

I am not as well-versed in Evangelical religion to speak authoritatively, but it seems to me that the Evangelicals are much more optimistic about reshaping this earthly realm.  Their fervor for conversion seeps into their political consciousness, thus they have grander visions for reform than does the Catholic conservative.

It would be easy to simply paint as the essential demarcation in conservative thought as the interplay between Catholic and Evangelical theology.  It would be easy because it is essentially correct.  We share many of the same values, but at some point there is a rift in our fundamental vision of the government because there is a fundamental rift in our theological outlook.  That is not to say that all Catholics are all of a particular political stripe, and all Evangelicals of another.  But if one wants to understand the divergence in American conservative thought, there would be worse starting points than this examination of the difference between Catholicism and Evangelical religion.

None of the developments of the previous decade has changed my thinking on these matters. To be sure, not all Evangelicals are utopian, nor are all Catholic conservatives necessarily fierce opponents of “big government.” Indeed the lone remaining standard bearer of traditional conservatism is Ted Cruz, a fervent Evangelical himself. Yet the populist appeal of Trump in the south indicates there is something to this distinction. Meanwhile Cruz has done better in the southwest and midwest, areas of the country that have a more libertarian hue and better represent the traditional strain of conservatism.

Contrary to the narrative, this primary is far from over. Trump is likely to be the nominee, but Cruz still has a fighting chance. This is the ultimate showdown of the two types of conservatism I detailed many years ago. Regardless of who wins, I believe we’re just seeing the beginnings of a much fiercer war for the heart of conservatism.

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Paul Zummo

11 Comments

  1. Eight years ago there was a lot of talk about how the Republicans would turn toward libertarianism in order to win the presidency again. After eight years of Obama, they would drop their losing social issues and then return to power as libertarians.
    I always thought this was wrong. I thought that eight years later we would see a big movement toward economic nationalism (anti-free trade, anti-immigration) that would be combined with not reducing the size of the government. Essentially the opposite of what libertarians propose on economic issues.
    These views on fiscal issues would need to be combined with views on social issues. Here was where I was wrong. I figured the person would be a fairly conventional social conservative as we see them today (anti-abortion, pro-guns, etc.). What we got was George Wallace 2.0 (racism, talk of crime, downplaying of abortion and gay marriage).
    I was thinking someone in the mold of Mike Huckabee, not what we have in Donald Trump. Not that I would have been happy with Huckabee, as I am a more conventional conservative and free trader. However, in the general I could probably have supported him because of the social issues. With Trump I don’t even have that.

  2. Reading this again now, Paul, I am reminded of how quickly and seamlessly I adopted your articulations. Ultimately, what you four gave me was a way to express what I had come to understand to be true. For that, I am most grateful.

  3. Thomas Sowell – conflict of visions – might be time to read that, Paul. 😉 Oh and if we’re compiling list of conservatives – Sowell [unknown], Jonah Goldberg [secular jew], Kevin Williamson [catholic], Charlie Cooke [atheist], John Derbyshire [atheist], John C Wright [catholic] (off the top of my head) – actually maybe we should establish what our criteria is. Ponnuru is the one that throws me off your list since he’s pretty “recent” as far as writings go (otherwise I agree with the Kirk-Buckley-Reagen).
    .
    As I’ve seen, there’s nothing really dividing the anointed vs tragic (Sowell’s terms) and certainly nothing endemic to any Christian branch that inoculates against either style (need we go fishing on Shea’s facebook or the st blogs for plenty of examples of what we might call utopian Catholics?)
    .
    I think the answer may simply be pride. Utopians ultimately believe themselves or their systems far better and more capable than they can ever be

  4. Ted Cruz and his preacher father Rafael Cruz propose a different kind of “let’s change this world” ideology. Trump preaches something like the prosperity gospel of Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar: “We’re gonna’ make America great again / you name you claim it.” Cruz is a Seven Mountains Dominionist. Such Dominionists believe God has called on his elect (i.e., these Protestant fundamentalists) to punish secular society and redistribute wealth from the ungodly to the godly. I have watched You Tube videos of Rafael actually preaching stuff like that, and then praying over his son, saying that he is anointed to become one of these Godly kings who will do exactly that.
    .
    We are rightly repelled by Trump’s foul mouth, uncouthed antics, his ignorance of conservative principles and American history, and his personal life of philandering and adultery. But we should also be concerned about giving the reigns to a Seven Mountains Dominionist. Of course, of the two, I prefer Cruz. He mouths words about Constitutional adherence and so far has a good trackk record. Yet when push comes to shove after he’s given the reigns of the Presidency, let’s see what he is going to do.
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    Of course, the GOP could have a brokered convention and give the nomination to Mitt Romney who for Mormons would be the fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s White Horse Prophecy (yeah, I know that the LDS Church disavowed that prophecy in 1916, I think, but nevertheless, let’s see what happens).

  5. My Catholic faith is not pessimistic, Jesus lived died and rose to bring hope. That is what the Mass is about… And we are given the mission to go out and give the Good News. Catholics know from the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that we are to do good works to a good effect for Love. The Catholic outlook is one of doers, of people who know that faith is reasonable and that faithful reason can make the difference in the lives of people even in this vale of tears.
    There used to be a common canard about catholic guilt – a Protestant view of Catholic understanding – seeing Catholicism as pessimistic may be similar more secular misunderstanding of accepting God’s will about what can’t be changed
    Catholic faith is optimistic- not the cockeyed optimism of the health and wealth preachers, but the optimism that made Catholics facing plagues build hospitals, and fight the Crusades, and build great schools.
    As far as the so called evangelicals of the south going for Trump, I think they are just that- so called.
    Cranks are cranks anywhere but the Catholic viewpoint has had a positive effect on thinking evangelicals and on the world.
    Catholics know that God is good and that we are called to the same. We are not concerned about conservatism for conservatism’s sake, but for the sake of what it is conservatism today is protecting.

  6. Such Dominionists believe God has called on his elect (i.e., these Protestant fundamentalists) to punish secular society and redistribute wealth from the ungodly to the godly.,/blockquote>
    .
    Good. He ought then to get along fabulously with Catholic preferential-option-for-the-poor social justice warriors.
    .
    He said exacerbatedly

  7. If I’ve learned anything during this primary, it’s that I was clearly wrong about the meaning of Evangelical. I thought it had something to do with living the commandments and being pro-life and things of that nature. Obviously if Donald Trump can be their standard bearer I was wrong.

  8. Folks, evangelical Protestantism is a heresy. That does not mean that all Protestant evangelicals are wilfully heretical. But it is an error against the Faith – many errors in fact. For instance, they deny the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. True, most of them so deny because they were taught error from birth and know nothing else. But their errors are fundamental and at the very root of authentic Christianity. So of course they surround a demogogue like Trump who offers fruition of the prosperity gospel nonsense which the likes of Joel Olsteen teach.
    .
    Catholics are similar when they go all liberal and embrace the social justice nonsense of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. It’s the same prosperity gospel idiocy just with a different name. And those Catholics similarly to their Protestant brethren likely don’t really believe in the real presence, either. It’s just a communal cracker after all. If they believed, then they would not abort and contracept like their Protestant cousins.

  9. Good analysis Paul Z. Now instantly to the bottom line. I think Trump and Cruz would be just the right ticket to compromise the internal Republican war and settle Hillary’s hash. It would be in both their interest to make this happen soon. As far as religion is concerned the two of them are about as religious as the Pope.

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