Donald Trump waived off reporters in Iowa on Tuesday when they asked him for a response to a GOP Senator who charged him with marital infidelity.
“I appreciate the nice question. I think everybody knows about me,” Trump told the reporters in Iowa, whose too-close-to-call, impending first-in-the-nation caucus will include a large proportion of Christian evangelical caucus-goers.
The extraordinarily personal criticism came from Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, via twitter on Sunday night. “You brag abt many affairs w/ married women. Have you repented? To harmed children & spouses? Do you think it matters?” he said. said one of his Sunday-night tweets.
.@realDonaldTrump Q4: You brag abt many affairs w/ married women. Have you repented? To harmed children & spouses? Do you think it matters?
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) January 25, 2016
That’s a remarkable charge by any politician against another — and especially by a GOP Senator against his own party’s 2016 frontrunner. If Trump wins the close race in Iowa, where evangelicals make up a large share of the vote, he’s expected by many observers to gain enough momentum to win the nomination.
Most evangelical leaders have rallied behind Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio.
However, many evangelical voters are backing Trump, not because he is a leading example of religious piety, but because they believe he’ll fight to protect their religion and culture from the progressives that dominate the federal government, the judiciary, the education sector and commercial culture, according to observers.
So far, most evangelicals and most media outlets have ignored or downplayed the critical reports about Trump’s personal life. Much raw material is in the public record, but it has not been converted into attack-ads.
Sasse’s sex-related charge fell flat, at least for the moment. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran stories, but they were largely obscured by the other events on the campaign trail, including Trump’s decision to boycott a skewed Jan. 28 campaign debate organized by Google and Fox.
The leaders of both companies have backed large-scale immigration policies that are sharply different from Trump’s popular low-immigration policies. Sasse has announced his opposition to an amnesty that would grant citizenship and voting rights to Democratic-leaning migrants, but has also backed laws allowing companies to import foreign workers for jobs sought by American white-collar and blue-collar Americans.
Sasse was elected in 2014, and doesn’t face his state’s conservative voters until 2020.
Sasse’s marital tweet was accompanied by many other conventional tweeted questions about Trump’s attitude towards the federal government’s role in a decentralized, fractious United States. The next day, Sasse announced he would campaign in Iowa with Sen. Ted Cruz and with Sen. Marco Rubio, who are rivals to Trump.
now4something more meaningful, see attd: We have a President who doesnt believe in exec restraint; dont need another pic.twitter.com/J82C81QeFR
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) January 26, 2016
But Sasse’s charges of marital infidelity may be submerged under evangelicals’ growing concerns about federal and elite hostility towards Christianity, and favoritism towards Islam, progressives, gays and other groups whose social status and political interests are constrained by Christian culture.
A mid-January poll of evangelicals by CBS and the New York Times showed Trump “dominating the field with 42 percent of evangelical voters; Mr. Cruz was second with 25 percent,” according to the New York Times.
The Times cited several evangelicals who are backing Trump, despite his messy personal life.
Spirituality is a big issue, but we need somebody who’s strong,” said Charles E. Henderson, 61, a disabled veteran from Lexington, Ky., who grew up attending a Nazarene church. He called Mr. Trump outspoken and decisive, adding, “Lots of times the preachers and everything, they have a tendency to be just a little bit weak.”
The same theme was highlighted by D.C. Innes, an associate professor of politics a The Kings College, a Christian college in New York City.
“On one level, evangelicals are like everyone else in the Trump camp,” he wrote in his article, titled “What evangelicals get out of Donald Trump,” and published in the leading religious magazine, World.
“Make America great again” resonates because America has become an international pushover. But Trump’s defiance of political correctness appeals to evangelicals specifically. They are tired of being shamed by secular morality while Christian morality is shamelessly scorned and publicly condemned. They are concerned again for their way of life. The war against Christian bakers and florists and anyone—no matter how gracious—who offends a homosexual or a Muslim has believers looking for a champion.
Political correctness intersects with illegal immigration and terror. Trump’s call for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration caused a scandal, but many evangelicals cheered under the weight of growing Muslim influence and cultural privilege.
Innes noted that Trump has been tried to win Iowa evangelicals with pro-Christianity messages.
Trump has been boosting Christian civilization. He began his campaign celebrating the Bible in general without mentioning specifics. With similarly vague affirmations, he proclaimed at Liberty, “If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.” He vows to “protect Christianity” in lands like Syria, where Christians are being slaughtered. Other candidates have strong personal Christian faith, but Trump, whose faith is obviously nominal, talks about somehow restoring the normality of Christianity.
Still, Sasse’s charge may bite. Several GOP Senators have been taken down by sexual scandals.
In 1989, claims of marital affairs helped Democrats defeat President George H.W. Bush’s Pentagon nominee, former Texas Sen. John Towers. In 1995, Democrats used charge of sexual-harassment to force Oregon GOP Sen. Bob Packwood to resign. Idaho GOP Sen. Larry Craig didn’t run for reelection after a sexual scandal in 2007, GOP Nevada Sen. John Ensign resigned in 2011 after a marital affair, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter lost his bid for governor in 2015, partly because of a 2007 prostitution scandal.