Photo credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
By Frank Bruni
IN the final, furious days of campaigning here, it was sometimes hard to tell whether this state’s Republicans were poised to vote for a president or a preacher, a commander or a crusader.
The references to religion were expansive. The talk of it was excessive. A few candidates didn’t just profess the supposed purity of their own faith. They questioned rivals’ piety, with Ted Cruz inevitably leading the way.
A rally of his devolved into an inquisition of Donald Trump. Speakers mocked Trump’s occasional claims of devout Christianity. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, pointedly recalled Trump’s admission last summer that he never really does penance.
Cruz, in contrast, “probably gets up every morning and asks God for forgiveness at least a couple of times, even before breakfast,” Perry told the audience.
The evangelist or the apostate: That’s how the choice was framed. And it underscored the extent to which the Iowa caucuses have turned into an unsettling holy war.
Religion routinely plays a prominent part in political campaigns, especially on the Republican side, and always has an outsize role in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up an especially large fraction of the Republican electorate.
But there was a particular edge to the discussion this time around. It reflected Trump’s surprising strength among evangelicals and his adversaries’ obvious befuddlement and consternation about that.
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