The departure of Ted Cruz from the Republican primary is great news for all of us who oppose Christian extremism and are less than eager to live under Cruz's interpretation of the bible. He was the Republican candidate I thought posed the biggest threat to secularism, and I'm breathing a sigh of relief now that he is out of the race. Still, as tempting as it is to suggest that Cruz's failure or the success of Donald Trump signals the end of Christian extremism, I believe that it would be a mistake to do so.
Writing for Religion News Service, John Fea seems to agree when he notes:
...many evangelical conservative voters who affiliate with the agenda of the Christian right believe they can support Trump without sacrificing any of their moral convictions about abortion, marriage and religious liberty — the primary Christian right talking points in 2016.According to Fea, the rise of Trump and fall of Cruz does indeed look bad for the Christian right. At least, it does until one realizes that there are two distinct types of Christian right voters participating in this election cycle. Those to which we have become most accustomed are the ones he refers to as "God" voters, and they have been the ones providing Cruz with most of his support. But Fea describes a different group of Christian right voters he labels "Country" voters.
These evangelicals place a high priority on the “greatness” of America. It is easy to interpret this group as being less concerned with spiritual politics than those in the “God” faction, but that would be wrong. Their brand of American exceptionalism is, at its core, a theological one. These voters believe America is great because it is a new Israel, a chosen people, a “city on a hill.”Thus, Fea suggests that this group of Christian right voters, mostly supporting Trump, is still part of the Christian right even though they have a somewhat different emphasis than what many of us are used to.
If “The Donald” is God’s instrument for making America great again, then these voters are more than willing to overlook much of his decidedly anti-Christian language and the crudeness that drives his campaign.With Cruz's exit from the race, there is still plenty of time for the entire Christian right, including both Fea's "God" and "Country" voters to unite behind the Republican nominee. What initially looks like a fracture in the Christian right may soon fade away as many conservative Christian voters decide that they would rather support Trump than risk losing to Hillary Clinton. With history as our guide, it seems like this is what we would be wise to predict.
At the same time, I find myself agreeing with at least some of what David Silverman had to say on the subject during his recent appearance with Paul Provenza on the Rubin Report. Just a few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that an irreligious candidate like Trump would make it as far through the Republican primary as he has. It is difficult not to interpret this as evidence that the forces of Christian extremism might not be quite what they used to be.