Conservatives have finally found something about Trump to hate: his religion

Ever since Donald “92-Page Financial Disclosure Form” Trump surged in the polls on a platform of building a Great Wall of Texas to keep all of the raping, murdering Mexicans out of the country, the Republican Party has been trying — and struggling — to come up with a credible line of attack to deflate the festering, smoldering boomlet of their own creation.

They thought they could tell him to “tone it down” on immigration, since insulting our nation’s largest immigrant population is generally bad politics. Then they remembered that their base freaking hates those immigrants. So scratch that.

Then they thought they’d caught Trump making an unforced error when he told GOP pollster Frank Luntz that Senator John McCain isn’t really a war hero because he got captured. Then they remembered that the Republican base freaking hates John McCain right now. Partly because of, you know, that whole immigration thing.

They might even be thinking right now that they can put a dent in his poll numbers over his public disclosure of Senator Lindsey Graham’s private phone number. This isn’t going to work. The conservative base is for the most part fine with doxxing people when it suits them, and a lot of them freaking hate Lindsey Graham. Again, because of that whole immigration thing. And that other thing that we don’t talk about.

See a pattern?

However, today Rick Perry may have finally found a way to break that pattern. Conservatives don’t have to hate Donald Trump because he hates Mexicans. They don’t have to hate Donald Trump because he’s disrespectful to veterans. They don’t even have to hate Donald Trump because he donated to the Clinton Foundation and supported universal healthcare.

No, conservatives should hate Donald Trump because he is insufficiently religious:

Perry was referring to Trump’s answer at the Family Leadership Summit — the same answer in which he said that John McCain isn’t a war hero — to the question of whether he has ever asked God’s forgiveness for his mistakes:

Said Trump:

That’s a tough question…I’m a religious person. Shockingly — because people are so shocked when they find this out — I’m Protestant. I’m Presbyterian. And I got to church and I love God and I love my church.

Trump then rambled for a minute about his former pastor without answering Luntz’s question, which he then repeated: “But have you ever asked God for forgiveness.” To which Trump said:

Donald Trump, screenshot via YouTube

Donald Trump, screenshot via YouTube

I’m not sure I have. I just go and try and do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think, if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. Now, when we go in Church and when I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness. And I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed…I could say “absolutely;” I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of “let’s go on and let’s make it right.”

Luntz went on to ask what Trump’s relationship was with God, to which Trump implied that God had played a hand in his business success by giving him an amazing brain, which is odd because I always assumed Trump had maintained his IQ through a series of leveraged cognitive bankruptcies. He then pivoted to John McCain, and we all know the rest.

Those in the online press, who weren’t at the Summit and didn’t gauge its attendees’ response to Trump’s comments, latched on to the attack on McCain, proclaiming that this could finally be the political taboo that brought Trump down. However, those who were actually at the Summit reported that this story simply wasn’t so. While the attack on McCain certainly didn’t go over well, it was Trump’s secularism that they found particularly distasteful. As Byron York wrote on Monday:

A senior Iowa Republican who was in the room, sitting with a group of grassroots activists as Trump spoke, was dumbfounded by the candidate’s views of religion. “While there were audible groans in the crowd when Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero,” the senior Republican said via email, “it was Trump’s inability to articulate any coherent relationship with God or demonstrate the role faith plays in his life that really sucked the oxygen out of the room..”

The senior Republican continued: “Milling around talking to activists in the hallways/lobby after Trump’s speech, THAT is what those Iowa conservatives were discussing, not the McCain comment.”

As one likely Iowa caucus-goer who had been considering Trump because she liked his stance on immigration told The New York Times, “I was not too impressed…He sounds like he isn’t really a born-again Christian.”

And there it is. For all of the reasons we’ve tried to laugh off Donald Trump as an absurdist sideshow, we’ve had to do so with the acknowledgement that he hasn’t actually deviated from the Republican Party’s platform in any serious way. Until now. Donald Trump on immigration is Rick Perry on immigration with a New York accent. Donald Trump on marriage is Rick Santorum on marriage with no sense of irony. But Donald Trump on religion is now a real point of contrast between himself and the rest of the Republican field, all of whom — even self-described libertarian Rand Paul — know how to wax theocratic when called upon to do so.

And they won’t let him forget it.

Conservatives like a man who has more money than God, as long as that man doesn’t admit that he doesn’t need God. That was Trump’s real mistake over the weekend. And for all of the other mistakes (if that’s what you choose to call them) that we’d like to go after him for, this was by far his biggest.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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