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My Take: Trump a litmus test for GOP
April 25th, 2011
09:10 AM ET

My Take: Trump a litmus test for GOP

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I don’t really care whether Donald Trump is running for president. But I am dying to see how Republicans respond to him.

Today’s Republican Party draws on a wide variety of strands, and those strands pull it in different directions. The party’s libertarian roots are visible in Paul Ryan and Rand Paul and other Ayn Rand aficionados who have classically favored maximizing individual freedom by cutting taxes and minimizing government.

Its roots in social conservatism and the Religious Right are visible in Sarah Palin and George W. Bush and their opposition to abortion rights.

These two strands conflict, of course, on questions of gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization - whenever the individual liberty so prized by libertarians bumps up against the efforts favored by social conservatives to Christianize the nation.

Although libertarians seem to be resurgent inside the party (though perhaps only on economic questions), social conservatives have been ascendant for the last generation. Do Republicans want government to stay out of wallets? Yes. Do they want government to stay out of our bedrooms? Not so much.

Another Republican strand, of course, is populism. As its name implies, this "-ism" always involves an appeal to the innate wisdom of the “people” over the book learning of “elites.” But it has often carried class antagonisms as well, championing the interests of working-class Americans over those of the “well bred, well fed, well read and well wed.”

The notion that “The Donald” can appeal to Joe Sixpack seems absurd on its face. But then again so does the notion that Republicans can appeal to ordinary Americans by drawing a line in the sand against allowing today’s marginal tax rate for couples earning over $250,000 a year to return to 36% (from the current 33%).

But Trump's current appeal - a recent CNN poll showed him tied with Mike Huckabee at the top of the GOP heap - does seem rooted more in populism than in social conservatism or libertarianism. Why else would he keep returning to the "birther" question, and to quick-and-easy solutions to our economic problems, such as slapping a 25% tariff on Chinese goods or seizing Iraqi oil?

One of the great ironies of contemporary American politics is that Republicans are now the populist party. Not since the 1930s and Herbert Hoover has any major party been so committed to confusing the business of America with the business of business, but that party (the GOP) is successfully tagging President Obama and the Democrats with engaging in "class warfare." We seem to have forgotten that the class rage underlying populism is supposed to be of the poor against the rich.

A Trump run to the top of the GOP ticket would underscore this irony. It would be the icing on the cake, the fois gras on the steak, the penthouse in Trump Tower. By any metaphor, however, this is a defining moment for the GOP.

The party line on the Tea Party (and not just in Republican circles) has until recently been that its complaints are economic, not social. But these Tea Party partisans look a lot like like the old Religious Right.

Will they be able to embrace a man who has only recently found the true religion they favor?  Will they be able to overlook his prior support for abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples?

In a recent interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said, “I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is THE book. It is the thing." In response to suspicions that he is an Easter and Christmas Christian at best, he also called himself a "Sunday church person."

Will that be convincing to social conservatives and Tea Party activists?  Or will it fall as flat as John Kerry's descriptions of his acolyte service as a teenager?

There are a heavenly host of questions about Donald Trump that we will get to ask and answer if he decides to run for president. But these are the questions his current flirtation raises for me: Is today's Republican Party about jobs or bedroom issues? Is it focused like a laser beam on reducing taxing and spending? Or is it preoccupied with reducing abortions and same-sex marriages?

Thanks to Donald Trump, it looks like we are going to find out.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Abortion • Christianity • Opinion • Politics • Tea Party • United States

soundoff (362 Responses)
  1. Tyrone

    BLAMING PRESIDENT OBAMA

    It seem the first black President is blame for everything allowed by the pass 43 white Presidents! White only male only Presidents mess up this country. Looked the other way when Americans where being arrested and murdered. Disrespect of the highest against women was the norm under white presidents! It was white Presidents that promoted hate and divide among Americans! Under white President Reagan he order American student to fire on! Corruption was and is the way of life for many white Presidents! It was the white former President G.W. Bush that receive a 800 surplus from a Democrat President. Then he turn over to President Obama a 13 trillion dollar DEBT!!! Doesn’t matter President Obama is blame for the mess Republican left him! In fact Republican charge President Obama with run away spending! Bush is responsible for two wars….The Iraq war for NOTHING! 4,400 Americans dead for nothing! Does not matter President Obama is blame for the irresponsible deaths of Americans! President Obama’s stimulus package save the country from a national unemployment of 33%! 22 million jobs lost under Bush. Bush pass a bill for a prescription plan two war NEVER PAID FOR THEM!! This white vs. black and all other minorities have worked against us all! Some whites today blame all social program on all 38 million blacks! Some black blame whites for the downfall of the country! Meanwhile politician are feeling their pocket with corporate money. Messing up the economy with their horrible financial decision. Just like in the beginning white American printed money in society. Currently, the US government maintains over 800 billion US dollars in cash money (primarily Federal Reserve Notes) in circulation. The amount of cash in circulation is increased (or decreased) by the actions of the Federal Reserve System. Eight times a year, the 12-person Federal Open Market Committee meet to determine US monetary policy. Every business day, the Federal Reserve System engages in Open market operations to carry out that monetary policy. If the Federal Reserve desires to increase the money supply, it will buy securities (such as US Treasury Bonds) anonymously from banks in exchange for dollars. Conversely, it will sell securities to the banks in exchange for dollars, to take dollars out of circulation.
    When the Federal Reserve makes a purchase, it credits the seller's reserve account (with the Federal Reserve). This money is not transferred from any existing funds – it is at this point that the Federal Reserve has created new high-powered money. The system does not work and should be change. The printing of money should be implemented in accordant to the population! The system that America has today works against itself! Republican blame President Obama for what 43 white only male only Presidents allowed!

    April 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Occupation

      Obama and the gays, you forgot the gays.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  2. Tony

    Well G Smith Obama has very little chance of being re-elected in 2012. Unless of course his opponent is a Republican.

    April 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  3. gyrocaptain

    zomg...why are people still voting?...why do people still care when it does not make a difference who is "elected" as president...the position of president is simply a prop for the masses...this country is run by an select elite few that you nor i can never influence or buy...stop voting...stop wasting your time and do something more constructive...

    April 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  4. Occupation

    If you want to fix the American Economy, stop electing Republicans. Their Ideology has unbalanced the economy and destroyed demand in the market place. Having taxes too high prevents investment and expansion, having taxes too low shrinks demand and erodes confidence. You need the 3 bears approach, get taxation just right and only Democrats are willing to do just that.

    April 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  5. MCR

    I'm fine with the article I guess, it just seems out of place in the religion blog...

    April 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      No, it's perfect. GOP is the party of "make belief".

      April 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  6. anthony

    "Do Republicans want government to stay out of wallets?
    Yes. Do they want government to stay out of our bedrooms? Not so much."

    April 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • K Matt

      I'll settle for keeping the damn government out of my wallet. I can deal with "attempts" by the government to invade my privacy....

      April 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  7. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    You would have thought when Karl Rove spoke out against Trump, other Republicans would have followed but they didn't, they are chickens. I hope Republicans do pick Trump as their candidate because he is exactly the kind of person they worship, rich, and he is exactly who the Koch Brothers will tell them to pick. Trump also recognizes he can bully these weak and incompetent Republicans because that's what he does best and they are afraid of him.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • K Matt

      You're at least partly right. Trump is not indebted to the Republican party, nor does he need GOP money. He'll set the party agenda, because he is uniquely positioned to do so. It has little to nothing to do with the strength of the Republican Party. he is doing so because he is Trump....

      April 25, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Occupation

      God I hope Trump wins the GOP Nomination, guarantee 4 more years of Obama, terrific.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  8. canreader

    As a Canadian who can't vote in your election all I can say is 'Donald Trump....really?'

    April 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • K Matt

      Really....

      April 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Canada, seal your Southern border while it's not too late!

      April 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • canreader

      LOL. Well we are having our own political issues,

      April 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  9. NetNinja

    We have seen liberalism and America does not like it one bit. Democrats=Socialism. They act just like socialist. They reach into your pocket to give to the other less fortunate. However they won't dare go into thier own to help out the less fortunate.

    Trump has no chance of winning but he is setting the agenda of what the Republican party should be talking about.

    It's the Economy stupid! been saying that for the past 3 years. This inept President has been campagining his entire Administration.

    1. Fair Tax
    2. No coporate taxes for 10 years
    3. This will produce jobs.

    Economy saved. More people at work. More goods and services purchased. Everyone is making money. Americans are happy again.

    Medical care

    If you want socialized medicine ask a vet if he likes his socialized medical care.
    Do we see anyone in congress on this program? Of course not! they have thier own cushy medical care system.

    Let private industry take over the medical care system.
    Having the government manage medial care for Americans is suicide.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Peter

      Where do you come from? Private industry already runs the medical care industry you idiot. Why do you think premiums keep going up? Have you ever been to a country that has a government run option? Try Australia, it works.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      it should say RetardNinja

      April 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Occupation

      Yeah, it will create jobs and no growth for your economy. If you don't tax these corporation's, their growth may employ some but leave everyone else out in the cold. Think of Taxation as your countries ability to "tap" the growth of your economy to grow your nation fool. A country is not just the sum total of its labor force, it is also the sustained growth of its PEOPLE. More idiotic conservative ideology that has hurt America and AMERICANS. I do not see Wal-Mart building roads, guarding the skies or helping the poor. Although they are helping to create the poor.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • clsjey

      My brother would not have survived cancer, and our family would be bankrupt without TRICARE. His ongoing treatment through VA Healthcare has been exemplary.

      Thank you God, for government-run health insurance.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • excitizen

      LOL – no corporate taxes so they can give their executives even bigger bonus'! LOL
      I live in Canada and despite the lies you all are told down there (and believe without checking) when you take the criminal Insurance Companies out of the mix "universal" health care works – notice I said universal because unlike republicans – most of the rest of the world actually knows what socialism means! The rest of the world laughs at the stupidity and now Trump on top of it – US IS THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE WORLD!!! LOL

      April 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Gillette

    Donald Trump...really.. whose kidding who. Everytime the Republicans rule things go in the crapper. America needs a president that does not have a comb over.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • K Matt

      Really, so things aren't in the crapper right now. When will the current administration take ownership for its own failings? One thing that makes both sides of the aisle quiver when it comes to Trump is he isn't "beholding" to anyone. He will state the issues straight as he sees them, minus the beltway doublespeak/jargon and will likely strick a chord with the American electorate. Don't be so fast to discount him as a candidate. If there's one thing the Donald does well, it is to promote his own brand.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • excitizen

      Kmat – things are in the crapper right now and does your feeble mind know/remember why? Bush took this country into a depression that was only averted because HE and Obama did what needed to be done to keep us from turning into a third world country (already there if intelligence was the only measure), so how long should it take to come back from something like that. Obviously you believe it should have happened overnight! fool.

      I dearly wish they had walked away from the banks when it was discovered just how bad 8 years of republicans ruined the country – I think a depression with all of you idiots out of work, on the street and living in cardboard boxes may have helped educate.

      Please tell me which republican candidate could have taken over after Bush and fixed the country in the two weeks that Obama was given, let alone two years? I grew up in Pittsburgh and it took them 10 years to get out of a really bad recession after the steele mills closed down. How long do you think it should take?

      April 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  11. Independent

    "Maximizing individual freedom" : This is the kind of idea that needs more examination. In other words, my freedom means not paying taxes for, say, the food and drug administration; which results in eliminating your freedom to buy uncontaminated food and drugs. We have an odd idea about freedom in this country sometimes.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  12. bob

    Trump is merely promoting himself to boost the ratings of his Apprentice show so he can negotiate a better salary for himself in contract renewal talks with NBC. Trump self promotes and has no other interest in America , it's people , it's social issues than getting his own bigger piece of pie.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  13. Jimbo

    The religious right wing is f*ing everything up for the republicans who actually want to change this country for the better. I can tell you the right loses millions of votes just becuase people don't want to be associated with the evangelical numbskulls....I'm one of the lost votes. Fiscally conservative, socially moderate will win.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  14. SurelyUjest

    I think that Trump is a flip flopper and a big talker. He would mess America up far worse than it is if he was in office. Public office is about service Trump and any other business man is about serving themselves and the stock holders. They do not know how to serve others and in particular people who have little. As a litmus test it shows just how convoluted and mixed up the GOP/Tea party folks are, they manage to vote together over 1 or 2 issues but totally disagree on the meat and potatoes of each extreme they have cobbled together as a base. As stated above strict fiscal conservatives care little or nothing for getting involved in gay rights, abortion on a social level only how it affects the bottom line. Religious conservatives care only about abortion and gay marriage and how it affects our society. Tea Party repbulicans care only for states rights when it suites them and the fiscal conservativism when if favors corporations and so called "job creators" and support spreading a religious message as well. This is why true old school republicans are leaving in droves to become Independants because they no longer have a home in the new republican party. So appeasing everyone is what Trump is trying to do but when put to the test in his CNN interview yesterday he seemed to lack much of the credibility he claims to have in politics.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  15. palintwit

    And all things Palin are finally coming to an end...

    April 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  16. GOP hypocrisy

    It's socialists vs sociopaths here in America. Choices choices

    April 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • jim

      what socialists are you talking about?

      April 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • glenn robert

      Does social security ring a bell. Every program that benefits the people is a social reform. Name one conservative idea or program that benefits everyone.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      ok that was intended with sarcasm...

      April 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  17. Dead Man Blogging

    If he gets nominated, I'm voting for Donald.

    Donald Duck, that is. In 2008, we weren't offered much of a choice, and this would be even worse.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  18. Rob

    The fact that theyd' even seriously consider such a pompous ignorant man as one of their own speaks volumes as to how the republican party perceives the American people.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • BigMike

      Trump's a red herring. They set the standard in '07 ('06?) when they started campaigning at unheard of early dates. They had to do so again, but don't have 2 years of stump speeches to give. So they bring in Trump (who is always looking for new revenue streams) to distract us for 6 to 12 months. Once he has blown over, the serious contenders can step in with campaigns that seem tight, organized, and sane. This against Obama who is already campaigning, who might suffer from his message being out there for too long before the election.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  19. trumped out

    Republicans want to sieze anybodys oil...especially when they can kill innocent people in the process...calling it all God's will...carrying out their heinous acts in the name of Christian Love. EAT THE RICH!!!

    April 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • kevin

      Don't eat the rich. They taste yucky. Spit them out instead.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      When the US starts charging higher prices for our food exports to those that keep raising their oil prices, then we will see who wins the price gauging war.

      Amen.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  20. G SMITH

    President Obama has zero per cent chance of being re-elected sorry liberal America you tryed and lost. Happy days are comming with a Republican President and Republican administration.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • GM

      can't wait for you to eat your words next year. Sorry, but just because YOU said something, doesn't make it true no matter how deluded you may be.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • palintwit

      Don't hold your breath...

      April 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • RandWasntChristian

      Yeah, it worked so well last time.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Dead Man Blogging

      Unfortunately, if the Republicans can't find someone other than Silly Sarah, The Donald or Huckleberry Hound, Obama won't have to worry about getting re-elected.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • jim

      we saw what a republican president and a republican congress did for us. an economy in the toilet, two unjustified, unfunded wars, illegal wiretaps, torture. yet you seem to think those were GOOD times. foolish, foolish conservative. i suggest you pay closer attention next time.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Mr. Bones

      I know *I* certainly take the rantings of people who can't even spell "tried" or "coming" correctly very, very seriously.

      Whatever happened to people being okay with their leaders being smarter than they are? Remember that? Since about 2001, coincidentally enough, it's been, "No, I want a slack-jawed f***tard like me! Everybody who finished high school is an elitist liberal nazi abortionist!"

      Except they don't say it like that, with the big words and all. It's usually more like, "Knowin' stuff is fer f*****s."

      April 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • John

      Shouldn't you get back to honeymoonig with your sister?

      April 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • joel

      the poor and the blacks that came out to win him the 2008 elections will come out again and vote for him a 2nd time. one thing I can tell you, is that the people who go to the polls are different than the people who take polls.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Amanda Beheshti

      That's what we all said about George Bush...

      April 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • cic

      lol

      April 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Juni

      Har har! You goofball.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • glenn robert

      To beat Obama, first you have to have a candidate! Twenty want a be's don't cut it!

      April 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • K Matt

      So GM, if the respondent weren't deluded he would be right?

      April 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Howard

      Too bad that The Donald has already stated that if he does not win the GOP nomination, he will run as an Independent... splitting the GOP vote right down the middle, and guaranteeing Obama a win. Sorry Smith, you are so very wrong.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Jerry

      Zero percent? Really? That's funny, because the most recent head-to-head mach up polls i saw had him beating every GOP hopeful so far. That's well before the Obama re-election juggernaut gets up to speed and when his popularity is in the toilet. Even if he doesn't get re-elected on merit, he'll get back in by default because the alternatives suck even more.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Jim in Bisbee

      Percent is one word. Tried is spelled with an "i". Coming has one "m". Ignorance is bliss, and I assume you are a very happy Republican.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • 2011judgment

      Obama had doomed himself with his evil agenda and any decent Republican could easily beat him. Obama will always have his dedicated followers, but many that originaly voted for him now have "buyer's remorse", and when these people step into a voting booth they will remember who cause them to pay far more for gasoline and other commodities and who sent America down a path to ruin.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.