Gingrich and the Evangelicals

Dan Gilgoff at

Are you surprised? What does this tell us? (There is, of course, a tendency for all of us to see one event, like this SC primary, and then jump to conclusions,  just as many did after NH.)

(CNN) – If there were any doubts that Newt Gingrich, a thrice-married convert to Catholicism, could connect with the evangelical voters who make up the Republican Party base, Saturday’s South Carolina primary put them to rest, with the former House Speaker winning twice as many evangelical votes as anyone else in the race.

Evangelical Christians made up two-thirds of the South Carolina electorate on Saturday, and Gingrich took 44% of their votes, according to CNN’s exit poll.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who rode evangelical support to victory in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses earlier this month, each got 21% of the evangelical vote in South Carolina.

Gingrich got roughly the same share of the South Carolina evangelical vote as Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, did four years ago.

The former House speaker campaigned vigorously among evangelicals in the Palmetto State, talking about “values” issues and speaking to and holding conference calls with hundreds of evangelical pastors.

“Whatever his personal values may be, he certainly talked effectively and cogently to the kinds of issues that evangelicals care about,” said John Green, an expert in religion and politics at the University of Akron.

“Gingrich had a very intensive campaign mentioning social issues, less as policy matter than as test of the broader ideology of candidates,” Green said.


"And the Ten Commandments."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"The priests in the temple read from the scrolls and copied them exactly letter for ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"I think the point is not about errors or inerrancy, or specific hermeneutics (literalism v. ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"As a child growing up in a conservative church, I heard all the "emotional" arguments ..."

What Women Want (Leslie Leyland Fields)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • KatR

    So now the group in America with the most credibility in advocating for the two person committed monogamous relationship is….gay people!!!

  • Tim Stidham

    I think it tells us that Evangelicals are not monolithic and want to make their own choices. I think that Romney’s hesitance to release tax returns has raised concerns about him. But maybe you can be secretive or Mormon, but not both! 🙂 And there was some sympathy for Gingrich created by the attack from his ex-wife. It is probably a combo of a vote against Romney and Gingrich showing fire in the debates. That he speaks with authority, I think, is interesting to a lot of evangelicals. Maybe not younger ones, however. Whoever the candidate is better have a positive vision for a better future, not just attacking others or defending oneself. Drawing clear contrasts between parties seems to be an issue as well. Gingrich has done that better. When Santorum does it, it can sound like whining somehow. And bottom line: it’s the economy. “The Paycheck President” image may have connected with people.

  • TomK

    I have a hard time processing “a thrice-married convert to Catholicism.” Did the Church annul his previous marriages? Bishops would publicly admonish John Kerry not to recieve Communion because of his pro-choice votes; is Mr. Gingrich likewise admonished to refrain because of his numerous marriages?

  • DRT

    I have a different question. Why don’t evangelicals have a candidate?

  • It speaks clearly to the fact that evangelicals have now fully capitulated to completely worldly approaches to communicating how our faith affects our views of public policy. It indicates a syncretistic political strategy that only cares about the character of a candidate if that candidate is “not my guy.” It also betrays a woeful ignorance among our ranks regarding the true meaning of sin, redemption, restoration, church discipline, and the nature and purpose of the church in all these things. These are sad days indeed.

  • Richard

    “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”

    I think DRT’s comment is insightful as well. What would the ideal Evangelical candidate look like?

  • Richard

    If the economy continues trending upward I think President Obama will win running away regardless of who the GOP nominates.

  • @DRT, they do have a candidate. But the only Evangelical left opposes interventionist preemptive wars, doesn’t take a blatantly one-sided stance on Israel, understands that the enemies of our country don’t just “hate us ’cause we’re free”, and believes that alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous than pot.

    Evangelicals don’t always do a good job in putting things in proper perspective…thus the victory of someone with huge moral deficiencies in his record who invokes Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson’s dictum of “kill ’em” when dealing with one’s enemies.

  • Bet

    My parents, whom I would describe as being closer to fundamentalist than evangelical, said that they were probably going to vote for Gingrich because they think that he is the one most likely to be able to win debates against Obama. I expect that this is the stance of many conservatives.

  • Robin

    I can’t vote for Newt because I have an aversion to scumbags (at least unrepentant scumbags, which is a category he falls into)

    The thing I think Conservatives (the kind with a Capital “C”) like about Newt is that he has a chip on his shoulder. Don’t forget this is the state where Obama’s NLRB put a hold on several thousand Boeing jobs because it feared the company might stop hiring at it’s unionized locations. People in a state like that want a candidate who is going to come out swinging…not one who spent half his life trying to convince liberals that he shared their ideals.

    I still hope it is Mitt, but Newt’s fire will help him in more states.

  • Could this illustrate that on the whole, evangelicals are held much more captive by conservative political ideology (of which Gingrich is a champion), than by any commitment to living in the way of Jesus (something Gingrich has never sustained over a significant period of time)? Evangelicals have been co-opted by secular conservatism.

  • What I think is a bit ironic is that the only candidate that is actually an active member of an evangelical church is the one that so many evangelicals have derided as the last candidate they would consider: Ron Paul.

  • I think it means Americhristians(™) want their war in Iran!

  • scotmcknight

    What this shows, in my view, is that anyone who thinks evangelicals can be pigeonholed politically is trading in stereotypes.

    It seems to me that most evangelicals are Lutheran in politics: they segregate their beliefs and their political ideas. (Luther famously believed in a two realms theory and the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, was for the private Christian while the secular state called for another way of being.)

  • Michael

    “if the economy keeps trending upwards” upwards?! What economy are you watching? An effective unemployment rate of close to 16 isn’t a trend that gets anyone re-elected.

  • JM

    I am from SC and they love combative politicians. Newt won in the first moments of the debate. There is more dislike of the mainstream medu than adultery I had dinner last night with a group of evangelicals who really hate Obama and their desire to defeat him trumps everything else just as democrats hated Bush. Unfortunately our theology ha been trumped by our political views.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    I’ll just add an amen to everything stated here.

  • As a Brit I am always amazed at
    – the gullibility of evangelical voters in the US
    – the strong desire to establish a present day Christendom in a country which avows the separation of Church and State.

    I know we are not perfect but this seems to be a quadrennial quest in the US for another Messiah who embraces political power rather than one who goes to the cross.

    How could evangelicals elect Reagan & Bush twice?

  • Joe Canner

    As with Bet #9, I’ve heard a number of conservatives itching for Gingrich vs. Obama because of his debate skills. My guess, however, is that he is just as likely to say something ridiculous in a debate as to score points. The GOP faithful may be able to overlook such things, but independents and moderates perhaps not so much.

  • DRT

    FWIW, I don’t think the left has a candidate either…

  • Kyle J

    I really have a hard time finding anything approaching a charitable interpretation here. And, as a self-professed evangelical, I struggle mightily with the idea that a group of people that shares my basic religious beliefs would attach themselves in such large numbers to someone who deals almost exclusively in the realm of fear, anger, and extreme partisanship (even setting aside the blatant and persistent hypocrisy in his personal life).

    It doesn’t help that this piece, which I don’t think exaggerates Gingrich’s record, was the previous entry in my Google Reader stream:

  • Kyle J

    Shorter version: The four remaining GOP candidates correspond almost precisely to the four major components of the modern Republican Party: those driven by business concerns, those driven by religious concerns, those driven by libertarian principle, and those driven by anger. The angry people are winning.

  • James

    @Tim Suttle, at least as regards the primary-voting ones, maybe so.

  • Danny

    I think the majority here are missing something important. It may be that people are supporting Gingrich simply because they agree with him on the issues – the benefit of his charismatic style and superb debating performance is merely icing on the cake. For me, I ended up choosing Gingrich months ago because of his strong stance of defending religious freedoms in light of advancing social liberalism. This has been a big concern for me for years, and Gingrich is the first candidate to articulate his goal of defending the freedoms of religious organizations. I do believe that character matters – so of course his sketchy past is concerning and it is a genuine negative mark against him. However, I’m thankful that he has repented of those activities. Honestly, if many of us held ourselves to the same standard that we hold Gingrich too – I suspect we would not even vote for ourselves should we ever run for office.

  • He has best moral values and understands that system doesn’t work for majority of people. Other candidates are corrupt and sold to the special interests. People like Santorum or Gingrich are phony. People need to get more informed, not from the mainstream media, from other sources.

  • Sue

    Unfortunately, I think the average Evangelical thinks being right is the point, and being angry is the proof – and Gingrich portrays being angry very well. Chris Christie would have given him a run for the money. I don’t think most evangelicals have a coherent theology of government – so they go for someone who lines up with how they feel, overlooking rather obvious signs of the candidate not really being a fellow traveler. For that matter, what do they hate Obama so much for? He professes Christ, is the husband of one wife, manages his household well, and has steadily pulled us out of an amazing hole he didn’t make. But they have been bought by Republicans, so they can’t see straight when they look at him. One reason I no longer call myself Evangelical.

  • TJJ

    If you are a Republican in SC, you don’t have the option/luxury of voting for the “perfect evangelical candidate”. You have to vote for one of the guys on the ballot. If you want to vote for someone who can actually win and defeat Obama, your choices are even smaller. The fact that evangelicals in SC voted for Gingrich does not mean they like his divorces or whatever, anymore than a vote for Romney means they like he is a Morman.

    Gingrich had two strong debates in SC, Romney was attacked on all sides by Ginrich/Santoruim/Perry, and the last minute ABC “scandal/gotta interview” with the exwife about a divorce that occured 12 years ago backfired, and Romney got voters concerned/worried when he would not release his tax returns. Those factors explain most of what happend IMHO.

    Avoid the temptation to over read primary results.

  • DRT

    Sue#26 a, er, woman, I presume, after my own heart.

  • DLS

    If some evangelicals can ignore abortion and other issues to vote for Obama, I don’t see why it’s that shocking for other evangelicals to ignore the three marriages to vote for Gingrich.

  • Bill

    Very interesting posts. I am very disappointed with state of politics in America. I really do not know who I will support, although I know things need to change. I have trouble with some of Obama’s policies, but am also troubled by many fellow Christians who oppose him for erroneous reasons.(Some people believe anything on the internet.) I guess I will wait and see how this race works out.

  • Percival

    Robin #10,
    Is it really necessary to call someone you don’t like a “scumbag”? Would you say that to his face? Is it in any way helpful?

    By the way, if Gingrich is the nominee, I will probably vote Democrat for the first time in my life.

    I believe Bachmann was supposed to be the evangelical candidate. She almost perfectly represents most American evangelicals today, except that she is a woman in leadership.

  • Holly

    Sooooo…y’all don’t believe in repentance and forgiveness in a person’s past personal life?

  • Robin


    I have no problem calling Gingrich a scumbag. He comes off as 100% un-repentant. If I had cheated on my first two wives and was currently married to my third…then whenever it got brought up in public my response would be one of contrition and repentance not “HOW DARE YOU TRY AND DISTRACT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE…BLAH…BLAH…BLAH” There is nothing in any of the responses I have ever seen him give that DEMONSTRATES repentance.


    If I saw him on the sidewalk I wouldn’t chase him down and call him a scumbag. If he was campaigning and asked me to vote for him I would very politely tell him, “Newt, I’m with you on policies, but your actions and lack of humility/repentance makes me think you are a scumbag…if you can’t be faithful and think its not that big of a deal, you don’t have the character to be President”

    I’m a sinner who has had to repent for lots of stuff, and I am surrounded by others in the same predicament…the repentant ones don’t act like Newt.

  • Robin

    With all of that said, if Newt is the nominee this will likely be the first election in which I have chosen not to vote (Or I might show up just to cast a vote for one of the fringe candidates)

  • DRT

    Holly#32, while I cannot judge someone’s heart, I can, and should, make an assessment of what I believe their character is like today. I buy repentance. I don’t believe Newt is selling it.

  • I honestly don’t think his three marriages are nearly as much of a problem as his attitude. Years ago, he was speaker of the house, if I recall correctly. At any rate, he was in power in Washington and it was a disaster! You know how the democrats and republicans can hardly speak to one another, let alone work together? Well, that began in large part when Gingrich was in power. We don’t need a divisive figure as president, we need someone who can bring the country together.

  • AHH

    I would like to think that some of the evangelical votes for Gingrich are because he espouses a compassionate policy toward immigrants, unlike the rest of the Republican candidates.

    I would like to think that, but sadly I expect that Kyle J @22 and Sue @26 and TJJ @27 are much closer to the truth.

  • I am disgusted that Gingrich won the primary, and that conservatives and evangelicals are credited with his victory. The man never met an oath that he was not eager to shatter. He violated his marriage oaths. He violated his oath to protect and defend the rules of the House of Representatives. If elected president his first duty is to take the oath of office to defend the constitution of the United States. And we will believe him exactly why?? Gingrich is not morally fit to serve as POTUS.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    I’m wondering if you are doing a bit of pigeonholing and trading in stereotypes yourself when you say: “It seems to me that most evangelicals are Lutheran in politics: they segregate their beliefs and their political ideas.” Sometimes the pigeonhole fits, as I think it does in this case to a great extent.

    The predominance of the American version of Reformed evangelical political thinking, however, probably inclines a bit more toward the previously “liberal” realism of dealing with things “as they are” wherein their beliefs are at least partially “political.” It may be that the alternatives to the two kingdom dichotomies of the mostly predominant evangelical-Lutheran bifurcation are a mainline Niebuhrian virtual machiavellianism or the more ambivalent and equivocal, anabaptist two-kingdoms emphasis on “the church being the church” and not engaging directly in political processes. The latter seems to allow individuals to drift in whatever political direction they are inclined to lean, the former impels them toward doing whatever is “necessary” rather than what is obedient or in conformity to the image of God in Christ.

    In any case, applying the love-and-service-toward-others values of Jesus’ conception and embodiment of God’s Kingdom is as much a challenge to all of us as it ever was. Keep up your work, encouraging us in living the Jesus Creed, and assisting Christ in the transforming of our minds to be like His.

  • Diane

    Danny wrote: “Honestly, if many of us held ourselves to the same standard that we hold Gingrich to – I suspect we would not even vote for ourselves should we ever run for office.”

    That’s the difference–we wouldn’t vote for ourselves. Gingrich would vote for himself. What does that say about his character?

  • Amos Paul

    There is one and only one Evangelical candidate on the GOP field right now. He’s been married for 54 years, is known for being a personally upstanding and virtuous person, and has spent the majority of his life attempting to help people.

    That is Ron Paul.

    But the “Evangelical” voter-base doesn’t really want a really Evangelical Christian candidate anyway. Don’t believe me? Watch the SC audience boo and jeer the man for having the *audacity* of even mentioning the Golden Rule.

    If they boo the words of Jesus. What do they really care about anyone’s morals, anyway? They just want that R next to somebody’s name who can hurl a few good insults at Obama on the debate stage.

  • Rick

    Amos #41-

    I don’t know if we can be certain it was largely Evangelical Christians doing that booing.

    That being said, I think much of what you said is right.

  • Percival

    A little story about Ron Paul. Back in 1988 I was picketing an abortion clinic by myself and a car pulled up and parked across the street. A guy got out, came over, and introduced himself to me, thanked me for what I was doing, and asked me if I was supporting anyone for the upcoming Iowa primaries. I said I was actually part of the Jack Kemp campaign. He said Jack Kemp was a great guy and he wished us luck. Then he shook my hand and got back in his car.

    That was Ron Paul and he’s a class act in my book, even though I disagree with him on a lot of political issues. He has always shown good Christian character as far as I know. I would never boo him.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I’m a liberal democrat and I think Scot’s right. I don’t vote for someone because they are an Evangelical or agree with my spiritual or theological beliefs. I only care about their personal life in as much as it speaks of their character.

    I vote for or support candidates who I agree with politically. And for me that means someone is left of center economically and socially.

    Some of that, of course, lines up with my faith and what I believe is right and just — as it should. My faith does INFORM my vote — but it’s not the be-all, end-all. I also need to know the candidate is competent, intelligent, etc.

  • Brian

    Newt has an evangelical ad guy. You can find out more about him in The 1/23 Columbus Dispatch. Pay enough, and you can get presented as the evangelical candidate.

  • Joshua

    I think Scot’s comment makes the most sense of how people think. This was made perfectly clear when Republicans booed Ron Paul for applying the Golden Rule to foreign policy. They either A) aren’t actually Christians, or B) are Christians but don’t believe the Golden Rule applies to foreign policy (or anything else for that matter, but we won’t get into that).

    B makes a lot of sense, given my personal interaction with many conservatives.

    Here’s realty, though. Regardless of what it says about party, if Gingrich is even nominated, from this point on Republicans won’t be able to say that they actually care about family values and the sanctity of marriage; at least, not enough to let that affect how they vote.

    And I am with all of the folks above who have talked positively about Ron Paul – he has been the only consistent conservative (and evangelical) candidate, and conservatives don’t like him because his foreign policy is a little TOO “Christian” for them.