Iowans prove me right (COMMENTARY)

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a contributing editor of the Religion News Service. Photo courtesy of Mark Silk
Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a contributing editor of the Religion News Service. Photo courtesy of Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a contributing editor of the Religion News Service. Religion News Service photo by Ted Richardson

(RNS) Yes, the Iowa caucuses were a YUGE win for me. By stomping on Donald Trump, Ted Cruz proved me right, and by finishing in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders proved me half right. As I say, a YUGE win against the odds.

OK, so maybe the caucuses were not all about me. Maybe they were about my analysis.

I said the key to Cruz’s victory would be white evangelicals, and that was totally the case, thanks to an even YUGER than usual turnout of those folks. In 2008, they constituted 60 percent of GOP caucus participants. In 2012, they were 57 percent. This time, it was 65 percent.

RELATED STORY: Iowa predictions: Cruz and Sanders

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks, with his wife Heidi Cruz by his side, after winning at his Iowa caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SILK-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 2, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks, with his wife Heidi Cruz by his side, after winning at his Iowa caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SILK-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 2, 2016.

Cruz won 34 percent of them, as compared with 22 percent for Trump, 21 percent for Marco Rubio and 12 percent for Ben Carson. That 12-point Cruz plurality amounts to twice his margin of victory. In a word, Iowa’s conservative Christian machine got the job done for him.

But it doesn’t make him the evangelical knight of 2016. In 2008, Mike Huckabee had the backing of 46 percent, with no one else in the field over 20 percent. Against Rubio and Trump, Cruz has yet to close the sale with that crucial component of the GOP base.

On the Democratic side, it’s harder to demonstrate my claim that Sanders would do better because of the rise of the Iowa “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated. That’s because the Democratic entrance poll didn’t ask a question about religion (or lack of it).

But there’s good indirect evidence. Sanders piled up his biggest margins among the least religious demographic cohorts: young voters (70 points), single men (36 points), 30- to 44-year-olds (21 percent) and the very liberal (19 points).

At 24 percent, Iowa has just a slightly larger than average proportion of nones than the rest of the country (22.7 percent). If he can keep up the excitement, Sanders will do well in high no-religion states. In the Super Tuesday Bible Belt, not so much.

(Mark Silk is professor of religion in public life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a contributing editor at RNS)

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • @Mark Silk,

    I enjoyed your commentary. Thank you.
    Excellent prediction on your part.

    “At 24 percent, Iowa has just a slightly larger than average proportion of nones than the rest of the country…If he can keep up the excitement, Sanders will do well in high no-religion states. In the Super Tuesday Bible Belt, not so much.”

    This is why religion is unhelpful. It can’t stay out of politics.

    The Jesus Test
    Bernie Sanders has many excellent ideas to help the middle class. Unfortunately, the litmus test is not what to do about this – instead the litmus test is JESUS.

    Yet the JESUS test has only brought us LESS EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT.
    Since the 1980s and the rise of the “Moral Majority” and The Evangelical Lobby America has been sputtering and failing badly.
    Over and over again.

  • I’m picturing Mark doing a little victory dance in the end zone after spiking the football.

    Congrats again, Mark.

  • Actually, since the early 1980s, the world has progressed greatly despite today’s troubles:.

    (1) A technological revolution led to the greatest productivity revolution ever, while fueling huge economic growth with no inflation, given the productivity gains. It took us from typewriters (remember them?) to word processors to PCs to the Internet to blackberries to smart phones…..on and on. We take all of this for granted.

    (2) The technology revolution was linked to a revolution in food production & genetics. The world now produces more than enough to feed everyone. War and bad government are now the main obstacles.

    (3) Over the past generation, 500 million people have moved from destitution to the middle class.

    (4) While social pathology is rising again, it’s nothing like what it it was before the 1980s. Drug abuse, auto deaths, violence, crime, abortion, teen promiscuity — all have plunged.

    (5) The Soviet Union collapsed on its own.

  • Yeah, “God” wants us to carpet bomb Syria and kill all the women, children, and the elderly! He also wants us to pander to the interests of rich donors at the expense of the poor in this country. Amen!

  • @Jack,

    “A technological revolution led….”
    You are pointing to the successes of Atheism. Zombies for Jesus (Matthew 27:52) have nothing to do with any of that.

    I’m referring to the Christian Lobby against Common Sense Thinking:
    The Evangelical Right Wing Neo-Cons. This is what belief in Zombies (Matthew 27:52) leads to:

    Dick Cheney
    Ted Cruz
    Fear mongering
    Rafael Cruz
    Marco Rubio
    The Tea Party
    Westboro Baptist Church
    George W Bush
    Christian Crusade against Islam
    Donald Rumsfeld
    Jerry Falwell, Sr.
    Jerry Falwell, Jr.
    Liberty University crackpots
    Ken Hamm’s foolish museum
    John Ashcroft
    Condoleeza Rice
    Climate Change deniers
    Genital Mutilation
    Pope Francis and medieval Superstitions
    Destruction of the First Amendment
    Zealotry for the 2nd Amendment
    The Patriot Act
    Christian Nation’ism’
    Destruction of Science education
    Destruction of reproductive education

    on and on…

  • Max, you said this:

    “Since the 1980s and the rise of the “Moral Majority” and The Evangelical Lobby, America has been sputtering and failing badly.
    ” Over and over again.”

    Your premise — that “since the 1980s….America has been sputtering and failing badly” — is wrong. I gave several examples highlighting this.

    The 1980s was a watershed moment — it was when America began changing across the board for the better. This continued through the 1990s. In our new century, we have stagnated in some ways, but we have far from erased our gains. We are still better in almost every way than we were before the 1980s.

  • Mark, one of the most interesting findings from last night on the GOP side was that people who said they most wanted someone with their values (and presumably their view on issues) went for Cruz, those saying they most wanted someone who could win voted for Rubio, and those saying they most wanted someone who could get things done once elected went for Trump.

    I suspect this division holds true in other primary states.

  • I agree…and I suspect it’s a correct assessment, at least as far as Rubio and Trump are concerned. I’m not so sure Cruz shares their values, because I’m not so sure what his values really are.

  • @Jack,

    I made an error.
    What I meant to say:

    The condition of the average American has been in reverse
    since the 1980s and you can thank religion for it.

    The Christian Evangelical Lobby’s influence:
    cowboy capitalism, cowboy wars against islam, zealous deregulatory trade deals – follow the money to the Christian fat cat Corporations (but never the Christian poor):

    Christian Right Wing Corporate money owns America:

    Big Pharma
    Credit Card Companies
    Supreme Court (Hobby Lobby, Citizen’s United)
    Congress (the Tea party is most of Congress)
    Fox News (non-stop promotion of Right wing Christian politics)
    Walmart (lowering living standards for everyone)
    Weapons Manufacturing

    A vote for religion is a vote against freedom.

  • Well, I understand Cruz’s opponents ran ads in Iowa asking the same question. It would be interesting to poll how many people who switched from Cruz, say, to Rubio, did so because of that question.

    I’m interested in the tradeoffs in voters’ minds about the three criteria — ie common values, electability, and ability/willingness to get things done. My guess is that eventually, electability will become key. Right now it’s apparently getting things done — hence Trump’s lead within GOP electorate in so many states. And that’s probably a product of GOP voter frustration about GOP getting nothing done (in their minds) in DC.

    I can’t stand Trump, but laying aside my polemical hat and donning my analytical hat, I think the tradeoffs among the three criteria and candidates are really fascinating.

  • I do too. It’s curious to me that Rubio is not seen as sharing values, since he seems like the nicest guy of the bunch. Maybe, for all those evangelicals, it’s just too weird that he migrated from Catholicism to Mormonism to evangelicalism and back to Catholicism.

  • Rubio’s journey suggests he actually thinks about and questions his faith. I am sure some Evangelicals see that as a liability.

  • I’ll agree with your part of #3 which says “Social pathology is on the rise” and cite as Exhibit A that “evangelicals” would vote for an obvious sociopath like Ted Cruz.

  • If you look at the record Rubio’s right-wing positions on social issues are identical to Cruz’s, but given his boyish good looks not viewed as terribly as the guy who resembles Grandpa on “The Munsters.”

  • Good Christians all, we keep demanding that moderate Muslim leaders speak out against radical elements in Islam. It’s time that moderate Christian leaders start to speak out against radical elements in own traditions, like the Evangelical voters who put Cruz over the top in Iowa. David Brooks had it exactly right–Cruz represents a “pagan barbarism,” yet apparently hundreds of faithful Evangelical voters flocked to the caucuses on his behalf. Evangelical leaders owe Iowa and the country a serious examination of conscience.

  • @Dave,

    “keep demanding that moderate Muslim leaders speak out against radical elements in Islam.”

    I didn’t hear your moderate Christian response yet to yesterdays incendiary call for genocide from Phil Robertson:

    “Those Gays……We need to eliminate them from the earth. Get them out of there.”
    – Phil Robertson

    February 1, 2016
    At an Iowa campaign rally for Ted Cruz

    Is Ted Cruz a moderate? Shouldn’t he have rejected this kind of talk?
    He didn’t.

    If calling for murder is typical of the Christian moderates, why is it extremist for Muslims to do the same thing?

  • George, even if social pathology is on the rise, which I think it is, it’s nothing like it was decades ago.

    And as for politicians, I reject the tactic of judging people’s psychological or moral fitness based on their political beliefs — although I will admit to an occasional chuckle when I hear people say liberalism is a mental illness. Ultimately, I disagree, but it’s normal for each side in a political debate to wonder at certain moments why or how in the heck the other side can hold to its positions with either integrity or sanity.

  • I disagree with that, too, Max. People aren’t worse than at the start of the 1980s. Due to technology alone, the average person is occupying a very different world today than before the 1980s.

    Yes, by some measures, wages have stagnated, but so have the prices of the greatest innovations in history, and certain essentials like petroleum products when you include inflation, and today, even when you don’t.

    The price of a pair of basic jeans is no different from 4 decades ago unless you go beyond basic and get ripped off.

    Controlling for inflation, a basic Brooks Brothers suit is probably about the same, and many professionals work in settings where you need not wear one each day, if at all.

    Higher education has skyrocketed, but that’s because it’s being subsidized through financial aid, causing a vicious cycle of higher tuition, higher aid, and then higher tuition driven by the ability of more people to afford the tuition due to the increased aid.

  • The”Jesus Test” is a MYTH! This”Jesus” is “Another Jesus:”2Co 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
    2Corinthians 11:4 ” For if he that cometh PREACHETH ANOTHER Jesus, whom we have NOT PREACHED, or if ye RECEIVE ANOTHER SPIRIT, which ye have NOT RECEIVED, or ANOTHER GOSPEL, which ye have NOT ACCEPTED, ye might well BEAR(“Believe/Accept/Incorporate”) WITH HIM(FALSE “christian”). ”
    FURTHER,Paul Said:2Co 11:12 ” But what I do, that I will do, that I may CUT OFF OCCASION FROM THEM( STOP THEM COLD!) which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.
    2Co 11:13 For such are FALSE apostles, DECEITFUL workers, TRANSFORMING themselves INTO the ‘apostles of Christ’.”
    2Co 11:14 ” And NO marvel; for Satan HIMSELF IS TRANSFORMED INTO AN ANGEL of LIGHT (WHILE HE IS REALLY an”Angel of DARKNESS”). Paul FINISHES With: 2Co 11:15…

  • Yes, I agree that Rubio does seem to have the nicest personality. My guess is what’s holding him back are two related things — first, the immigration issue, where anti-immigration types can’t forgive him for his Gang of 8 leadership and support, and second, about $20 million worth of ads run against him by one of the Bush superpacs.

    On the immigration issue, I think a key reason for evangelicals taking such a strident stance is talk radio. I’ll bet polls would show that evangelicals are far more influenced politically by Rush Limbaugh than their pastor. Illegal immigration is a legitimate issue and concern, but it’s gotten way overboard in terms of rhetoric.

  • max, I’m not one to defend slime like phil Robertson, or slime enablers like Cruz.
    But strictly speaking, Robertson was not referring to gay people, but referring to anyone, gay people included, who thinks that gay people ought to have a right to be married.

    But that doesn’t make it much better, or change what any decent person may think of the slime or the slime enabler. Eliminate from the earth? Sounds vaguely familiar to me. Something about mustaches….

    Robertson said it, and we know how it would work. Cruz revealed publicly the side that anybody can see looking in his face– he is not a good person, filled with love, though he seemed to be filled with love and admiration for Robertson.

    This is the type of person you support, conservative Christian America. And it is not good.

  • Rubio is a politician like the rest of them, but he also seems like a thoughtful guy.

    Cruz is the most curious of the bunch, partly because I am utterly convinced that his father has been grooming him to be president from day one of his life (think Joe Kennedy on steroids) and partly because I sense he’s thinking ten steps ahead of the rest of them in terms of tactics and strategy. His intellect is impressive and his polemical skills outstanding, but the philosophical conservative in me worries about the potential of someone with his skills to run rings around the whole system if he’s elected president.

    To be fair to Cruz, I can’t say I see anything in particular about him that would incline him toward this. He seems to care deeply about constitutional governance. But I believe that everyone is corruptible. That’s what worries me a bit. The consequence of a smart person getting corrupted is far worse than that of a person of average intellect.

  • David Brooks is the most interesting columnist in the Times, but his remarks about Cruz diminished him rather than Cruz. The things of concern regarding Cruz are a bit more subtle than that….

  • Put another way, an exceptionally bright, articulate, strategic, cunning, calculating, and uber-ambitious politician, quite possibly trained to become president almost from day one of his life, is someone to be concerned about, especially when he ends up in a legislative body filled with people who show no evidence of being nearly as bright.

    Even though I see nothing particularly evil about the guy, I worry that, given his skills, in order for him not to be corrupted once he gets more power, he would have to have the kind of rock-solid ethics that have always been exceedingly rare in politics.

  • @Jack,

    I only care about evidence. The Religious Right has been a negative influence funding and cutting all the wrong things!

    “First Time in American History
    the Longest Episode of USA Wage Stagnation Continues a Slight Downward Trend which Started 35 Years Ago”

    – Economic Policy Institute, 2014 Report


    “Education in America Continues on a 30 Year Decline”

    “After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will be returning to their home countries.”

    We’re in 52nd Place!

    *United Nations Report, the OECD, The Legatum Institute

  • I did NOT know this, Mark. I, too, think it’s MORE than WEIRD that anyone would change their “Spiritual Worldview” from Catholicism to Mormonism, and back again. These two religions have little in common, as I have educated myself regarding BOTH, & others. Their “core beliefs” are glaringly “polar opposites”, although they both require some kinds of “human works” in order to gain the Salvation through FAITH by the Grace of God ALONE, as the Apostle Paul taught to ALL the Churches he founded in Asia Minor. The very SAME Salvation which Martin Luther came to believe in, and started the “Protestant Reformation” in Europe. Thank you very much for this information, as it has helped me in choosing the candidate I might vote for this coming Election ;>).

  • The “Speaking out against radical Islam” has NOTHING to do with “PERSECUTING Muslims”, as is the hue & cry of the “compassionate” liberals in our society. It’s a matter of common sense for most of us “thinking people”, who have the ability and the RIGHT to evaluate circumstances AS THEY ARE in this world TODAY. It’s no longer my parents world, nor my grandparents world!
    There ARE EVIL people run amuck, who MURDER, RAPE, & PILLAGE those who are weaker, innocent of “BLOOD CRIMES”, & helpless (elderly, infirm, little children, & women). THIS is a FACT, and it is up to those in our society who are equipped to HELP the HELPLESS by STOPPING the EVIL from taking over.
    Radical Islam has,at its CORE belief system,the “RIGHT” & “DUTY” to MURDER anyone who does NOT AGREE with them!Furthermore, they are DETERMINED to FORCE their beliefs on the whole rest of this world! They call it a “CALEPHATE”, & INTEND to do it by “JIHAD”(“Holy”WAR)! NO thank you~I’d ratherB…

  • Come on, Max! Your “Strawman” argument is ridiculous! WHICH is it that you find most offensive? Is it some BIGOT calling for “the need to eliminate them (“Gays”) from the earth.”, or, is it “Christian moderates” “calling for murder” of (here you really MIX IT UP),”Gays” or “Muslims”??! THAT LAST sentence of yours is “clear as MUD” ! ANYONE calling for the MURDER and/or GENOCIDE of ANY people, culture, or an individual, based on sexual “identity/preference” OR upon a TRULY peaceful, law- abiding, “LIFE-AFFIRMING” “religion” is NOT a TRUE Christian (“Moderate”, “Tepid”, and/or “Strong” in their belief in Jesus Christ)! And,YOU KNOW this for yourself! You just want to take the opportunity to BASH all Christians & their beliefs! You sound as much a BIGOT as the man you are railing against! Please DON’T INSULT us who TRULY DO believe, because we make up the very BEST of “GOOD Citizens” in America! We HELP ANYONE in need, regardless of color, faith, or…

  • @Sherry “Sonshine”

    “ANYONE calling for the MURDER .. is NOT a TRUE Christian.”

    Are you sure?
    “Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

  • @Sherry,

    “Radical Islam has,at its CORE belief system,the “RIGHT” & “DUTY” to MURDER anyone who does NOT AGREE with them”

    Do you think Christianity is any different? It isn’t:

    “Burn your daughter alive” – Yahweh (Lev. 21:9)
    “Any who curse parents must be killed.” (Lev. 20:9)
    “kill homosexuals”(Lev. 20:13)
    “Kill those with a different religion.”(Deut. 17:2–7)
    “Anyone who dreams anything against God must be killed.”(Deut. 13:5)
    “He who has no penis shall be damned” (Deut. 23:1)
    “Hate them” – Jesus (Luke 14:26)
    “Save the virgins for rape” (Num 31:18)
    “Kill without mercy” (Jer 15:1-7)
    “enslave he who surrenders” (Deut. 20:10)
    “whip slaves severely” – JESUS (Luke 12:47-48)
    “Make slaves of those around you” (Lev 25:44-46)
    “Kill your loved ones for me” – God” (Judges 11:30-1, 34-5)
    “Women, be raped to save your husbands” (Judges 19:25)

  • @Ben,

    Yes. Also, I can’t think of a situation where someone could get away with saying such a thing at a democratic rally – much less be applauded for it.
    The republicans have become a fascist party.

  • George, I’d agree with you if you were right on whether Cruz looks like Grandpa on the Munsters, but you’re not and so I don’t. I don’t even think his father, who would be Grandpa’s age, and who looks like Ted, looks like Grandpa.

    He does look like some famous figure but I can’t quite figure out who.

  • Max, even if wages are declining in real terms, so are the prices of cutting-age technology, as well as a host of other things. Of the three necessities — food, clothing, and shelter — only shelter has really shot up over the decades in real dollars, and even there, there are plenty of metropolitan areas across the nation that remain very affordable.

  • Well, Jack, that sort of thing, who looks like who else, is in the eye of the beholder, kind of like the Bible. I say he does but that’s just my opinion. He also looks like the fat man logo of Joseph’s Bar and Grill in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. And Mark, we was talking about on the outside not the inside. Still, mighty clever.

  • Well, they think the same thing about Christians, so, there ya go. And of course here in the U.S. we have the “Quiverful” movement which promotes fathers selling their daughters to husbands. There was even a show on TV about it until one of the sons was busted for raping his sisters.

  • I’m afraid you are correct, Mark. That’s who it is. I don’t think he’s another Joseph McCarthy — although I do worry about him — but he does look a bit like him.

  • Dave, I think David Brooks sense a danger with Cruz, but the “pagan barbarism” comment has the opposite of its intended effect. It’s so over-the-top silly, it lets the more subtle but deeper concerns about Cruz to fall by the way side.

    I think Iowans did the right thing in stopping Trump, who is the more immediate and obvious danger. They slowed his momentum, and thus gave everyone a breather.

  • Well, one thing’s for sure…..if they make Trump their nominee, that’s a real flirtation with fascism. I’m of two minds about Cruz, but at least in the very short run, his win had the constructive effect of slowing down the Trump bandwagon. That gives everybody a chance to take a deep breath and take a second look at the candidates. Rubio merits a second look, as do Kasich and Christie. As for as Jeb is concerned, he may be done even if he approaches double digits in NH.

  • Yeah, that Jesus fellow was a real Attila the Hun.

    Look at all the people He slaughtered while on earth..

    Let’s see, there was…..er……um……er…..um….

    Max, you’re not exactly convincing.

  • Yes, George, that “Quiverful” movement is sweeping across this nation, catching millions in its net.

    I don’t think so.

  • George, make up your mind. In one post, you agreed with the opinion that social pathology is on the rise, but in a subsequent post, you disagreed.

    I’ll let you two (you vs. yourself) hash it out.

    Let me know when you’re done.

  • Cruz is not as easy to categorize as it may seem. A gay couple in Manhattan hosted a fundraiser for him a while back. Apparently, after it, they were criticized roundly by some gay activists.

    This is a very odd election, filled with paradoxes at every turn.

  • I just want to see what ou’re talking about. I believe ther’es been moral decay which has mstly consisted of an increase in greed, Sex is basically unchaged.

  • As USUAL ,Max, you “atheists” DON”T UNDERSTAND God’s Holy Word, because you DON’T have His Holy Spirit “Abiding”(LIVING) within you! ONLY people who are “BORN AGAIN”(Believe on Jesus Christ as Savior, According to:1Corinthians15:1-4+,), RECEIVE Him(His Holy Spirit) the very MOMENT they truly BELIEVE!
    You’ve taken ONE verse, OUT of CONTEXT, to use as your “PRETEXT”, which adds up to NOTHING! Here is the CONTEXT, from Scripture:
    Luke 19:11 ” And as they heard these things, he added and spake a PARABLE, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.”

    Jesus Christ of Nazareth IS The”MESSIAH” to ISRAEL! He came to them FIRST & ONLY, because they were & ARE “God’s Chosen People”! The “Church/Body/Bride” of Christ was TOTALLY UNKNOWN, & is called “A MYSTERY”, 1 of 7, revealed DIRECTLY to the Apostle Paul (Formerly “Saul of Tarsus” BEFORE his “Damascus Road” Conversion) by The RISEN Christ…