Let’s get this out of the way right at the top. Yes there will be evangelicals who don’t vote for Newt Gingrich because of his messy past marital history. And yes there will be evangelicals who may be put off by some of his less than conservative ideas. I get it. I understand that.
But then why is he pretty popular with evangelicals right now? It’s actually quite simple and makes perfect sense.
Having covered Gingrich for the past six months on the campaign trail as he traveled to a multitude of evangelical events, I’ve gotten a good read on what’s going on here. First of all, let me provide some background. The latest polls show Gingrich overwhelmingly supported by white evangelicals who plan to vote in the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 3 (34 percent). Additionally, his favorable rating among white evangelicals is 60 percent. That’s not a typo.
What pundits seem to miss is that every time they try and analyze conservative evangelicals they always tie the group in with social issues. While abortion and marriage are cornerstone pillars for evangelicals, polling shows that actually only 25 percent of white evangelical Republican caucus-goers say social issues matter most.
It’s really economic matters that count most. Fifty five percent of white evangelicals in Iowa put the economy first. The point here is that you don’t have to be a social issues crusader to win Iowa. That helps Gingrich and explains in part why Santorum and Bachmann haven’t been slam-dunk candidates in Iowa.
Having established that let me offer a myriad of reasons why evangelicals are connecting to Newt. These are in no specific order. Let me also point out that Gingrich speaks about these issues in such a unique, historical, artful and compelling way so even though other candidates may share his overall views, Gingrich wraps it up so neatly that audience members also get a history lesson at the same time. After hearing Gingrich, people leave campaign events feeling like they learned something.
Here are the reasons Newt Gingrich is connecting with evangelicals:
Newt’s strong language on Radical Islam and Sharia Law:
Gingrich pulls no punches when talking about the threat of radical Islam. Unlike cautious politicians who are trying to not offend anyone, he has no problem using strong, powerful words when describing the stark reality of what is happening over there.
Here’s what he told the American Family Association’s pastors; policy briefing in Iowa months ago:
“Until you replace this president and until you have the Congress and the new president replace large parts of our bureaucracies, we’re going to continue to be dominated by a secular, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish elite, which is seeking to impose on us rules that make zero sense.”
He goes on to say that while he is not anti-Muslim he is “deeply opposed” to the Islam’s radical wing that suppresses women and Christians.
Here’s the point: Conservative Christians are huge supporters of Israel and they are clamoring for someone to speak the truth with abandon on this issue of radical Islam. Newt is doing it.
Newt’s stand on Judeo-Christian principles:
Let’s remember that Gingrich and his wife Callista have spent years devoting time to explaining the deep Judeo-Christian heritage of our country. They’ve written books about it, not to mention filming documentaries, too. As an historian, Gingrich has a passion for this and talks about it a lot on the campaign trail.
In Iowa, he told me the following: “In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion.”
Gingrich is not shy when he tells campaign crowds that he believes we are on our way to becoming a secular atheist nation if we sit back and do nothing. He also takes on college professors and the mainstream media who he believes are looking to rid the country of the Founding Fathers Christian values.
Also, a couple years ago he formed a nonprofit group called, “Renewing American Leadership” with the purpose of bringing moral leadership back to America. Gingrich is also a regular when it comes to meeting with pastors around the country and he hasn’t been doing it only while running for president. He’s been doing that for years.
The point here is that Gingrich truly believes in the Judeo-Christian fabric of our nation and has the “street cred” to prove it, so he comes across as genuine to evangelical voters.
Newt’s Pro-Life promises:
Gingrich gets a couple big applause lines on the campaign trail when it comes to the pro-life issue. He talks about how on day one of his administration he will sign the executive order reinstating the Mexico City policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions overseas.
He also talks about how he is for legislation that would define personhood as beginning at conception (Using the 14th Amendment as the legal underpinning). While Gingrich has stumbled on the “implantation vs. conception” argument, the bottom line is that he still resonates when he speaks about these issues.
Newt’s Boldness and Lack of Political Correctness:
Evangelicals like candidates that don’t dance around the issues. They like candidates that speak boldly. Gingrich delivers in this department…with spades. That’s not to say that Santorum and Bachmann don’t do that as well, but Newt is so over the top with his bombastic style and his disregard for political correctness that many evangelicals leave excited that someone has the courage to say something that many other candidates won’t.
Case in point: At the Thanksgiving Forum in Des Moines, evangelicals gave Gingrich the loudest applause of the night when he said the following: "I would say to the government of Iran today you have a short time to solve this (nuclear weapon issue) on your own, and if you don't, we will solve it for you. And we frankly couldn't care less what the rest of the world thinks.”
You get the idea.
Newt takes on liberal judges:
Finally, let me mention this issue of liberal out of control judges. This is Gingrich gold. Just wind him up and let him go and he brings the house down.
How about this one when he told a Christian audience,
“The fact is, the Founding Fathers deeply distrusted judges and thought that the lawyer class was dangerous and that you could not give them unbridled power or they would undermine and destroy free society…And so I think we are faced at one of the great crossroads of American life. And it's doubly dangerous because, you see, if judges think that they are unchallengeable, they are inevitably corrupted -- corrupted in a moral sense. I don't mean taking money. But I mean in a sense of arrogance, in a sense of imposing on the rest of us, whether it's one judge in California deciding he knows more than 8 million Californians about the definition of marriage -- whether it's a judge in San Antonio who rules that not only can schoolchildren not say a prayer at their graduation, they cannot use the word "benediction," they cannot use the word "invocation," they cannot use the word "God," they cannot ask the audience to stand, and if they do any of these things, he will lock up their superintendent.“
Then he went on to say this about that judge: “I can promise you that one of the first acts that I will do… is close the office of Judge Berry in San Antonio. ... He refused all references to God, prayer, moment of silence, etc. at a high school’s graduation... He is an anti-religious bigot.”
One final point: Is this election about the economy? Of course it is but even if voters think a candidate is competent in that area, they won’t necessarily pull the lever for that person if they don’t connect with the candidate. Gingrich IS connecting with evangelicals because of the reasons listed above.
I’m not saying that he’s an evangelical slam-dunk for all conservative Christian voters. Please don’t misread that. I’m simply trying to explain the reasons behind Newt’s popularity with evangelicals so the mainstream media and others don’t have to go around scratching their heads in disbelief.
Note: Make sure to watch this week's Brody File Show. Newt Gingrich is this week's "Elephant in the Room."
The Brody File has exclusive, backstage access to Newt, and we also interview Callista Gingrich. Watch the show for your all-access pass.