In the closing hours before the Iowa Caucus Senator Marco Rubio has made a significant blunder. It may be crippling his last minute Iowa surge just as it is getting off the ground. So far, Donald Trump is the big beneficiary.
Here’s the story. On January 10, 2016 Senator Rubio brashly announced in an email that he now represented the Billy Graham wing of the Evangelical Movement, Ted Cruz represented the Jerry Falwell wing and Donald Trump represented the Jimmy Swaggart wing. In that one email he managed to offend some of the most important leaders of influence in the Christian world as well as damage himself with some of the most important blocks of Evangelicals in Iowa. It was a clumsy move that is still causing his campaign to lose air right when it needs all the help it can get.
First, this writer was told that he did not have Billy Graham’s permission to use his name. No, the beloved evangelist had not endorsed him. Months earlier, when cocky Rubio officials tried to set up a meeting with the evangelist they were turned down. Later, when Rubio used his name anyway it created a backlash that it is still unfolding. Evangelical leaders, who have a lot of influence over the rank and file, deeply resent the apparent manipulation. They see Rubio as taking advantage of the aging Christian leader.
Second, by announcing that Ted Cruz had won the Jerry Falwell wing of the party Marco Rubio rankled many Southern Baptists.
The late Jerry Falwell was a controversial figure in American culture. The national media had demonized him. His negatives were high. His own followers were well aware of the challenges and loved him anyway. His inner circle was working to help. Toward the end of his life Falwell had moved from his Fundamentalist beginnings at the Baptist Bible Fellowship to become a major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Meanwhile, his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., was building the largest University in America.
Rubio’s veiled put down of Falwell and Cruz backfired not only on Rubio but on Cruz as well. On January 26, 2016, Jerry Falwell, Jr., clearly his own man, promptly endorsed Donald Trump.
Finally, Rubio’s caustic remark about Swaggart and Trump may turn out to be his biggest blunder of all. Donald Trump, Rubio claimed, was the leader of the Jimmy Swaggart wing of the Evangelical Movement. Swaggart, a Pentecostal, was at the center of the televangelist scandal of the 1980’s which involved prostitutes and other misconduct. And after all, Donald Trump was getting some help from Paula White a prominent Pentecostal figure. White had arranged a meeting between Trump and national Christian leaders.
Rubio, allegedly getting counsel from Southern Baptist insider, Russell Moore, must have thought he would be pretty safe dissing the Pentecostals.
One big problem. According to Gallup 41% of the American people claim to be Born Again. A disproportionate number of them live in Iowa. And according to Barna 51% of those born again Christians believe in the charismata or gifts of the Holy Spirit. “For the Barna survey, this included people who said they were a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian, that they had been ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and who said they believe that ‘the charismatic gifts, such as tongues and healing, are still valid and active today.'”
It gets worse. 82% of the members of the Southern Baptist Convention live in thirteen southern states. They will be the single most important voting block in Southern States on March 1st. But most of the born again Christians in Iowa are neither Billy Graham Baptists nor Jerry Falwell Baptists. They are Pentecostals who Rubio just painted with the same Jimmy Swaggart brush.
If Rubio doesn’t want their votes, Donald Trump will take them.
It gets worse. If Rubio’s false flag Billy Graham endorsement were not enough, it turns out that the Charismatic Catholics are at the heart of his own Catholic Church. They number into the millions worldwide. As word of Rubio’s insults spread his Evangelical supporters are troubled and now his own fellow Catholic Charismatics, major players in Iowa, are beginning to get the news.
Ben Carson had his own meltdown with Evangelicals last December. He was briefly leading in national polls when he gave an interview to Sally Quinn. She asked the candidate if he believed in a literal hell. He did not. It turns out that an astonishing 61% of Americans believe in hell and more importantly for Carson, 87% of Evangelical Christians do. As word of Carson’s interview spread his support collapsed in Iowa and Ted Cruz was the chief beneficiary.
Ghandi once said, “He who says that religion and politics don’t mix, understands neither one.”