(RNS) Donald Trump won big on Super Tuesday — including states that are largely evangelical.
The businessman and Republican presidential candidate won seven states: Georgia, Vermont, Virginia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Arkansas and Tennessee. The last is the most evangelical of the states voting, with 67 percent of Republicans identifying themselves as such.
But self-identification as an evangelical is “a broad brush within a Southern state that’s pretty Christianized,” such as Tennessee, said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and co-author of “Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.”
Barna instead looks at nine theological criteria to determine who is an evangelical in its polling, which makes Sen. Ted Cruz (38 percent) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (35 percent) most popular among Republicans nationwide. Carson said Wednesday (March 2) he didn’t see “a political path forward after Super Tuesday primary results” and wouldn’t attend Thursday’s debate.
Tellingly, Trump came in fourth in “one of the most famously evangelical Republican precincts in the country” — Liberty University’s precinct in Lynchburg, Va., according to FiveThirtyEight. This despite the fact that Liberty President Jerry Fallwell Jr. had endorsed Trump after the candidate spoke on campus.
And leading up to Super Tuesday, evangelical pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado criticized the public’s support for Trump, while Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention ethicist, alluded to it as one of the reasons he no longer wants to be called an evangelical.
Others took to social media as the results rolled in to call out evangelicals’ support for Trump.
One of the questions looming over Super Tuesday, Kinnaman said, was whether Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, running neck and neck behind Trump, could distinguish themselves from each other and whether there would be enough pressure to force either to drop out of the race.
“Cruz had more state wins than Rubio did, so the possibility of Cruz sticking in it is very strong,” Kinnaman said.
In a speech after winning both Texas and Oklahoma on Tuesday, Cruz asked the other candidates who hadn’t won any states or a significant number of delegates to “prayerfully consider” coming together to support him in order to defeat Trump. Later, it was announced Cruz had won a third state, Alaska, and Rubio had won his first state, Minnesota.
Meantime, Kinnaman said, “It’s showing this is one of the more tribalized elections we’ve encountered.”
Sanders won four states, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also had a big night, winning seven states and 1,055 delegates, by CNN’s count. (While Trump won the same number of states, he gained only 315 delegates).
(Emily McFarlan Miller is an RNS correspondent)