WASHINGTON (BP) — The Democratic and Republican frontrunners strengthened their leads Tuesday (April 19) in the races for their parties’ presidential nominations, but Donald Trump’s dominant win in New York provided no assurance he will be able to avoid an open convention.
Trump, the billionaire/celebrity, won 60 percent of the vote in his home state’s primary, gaining 89 of New York’s GOP delegates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the runner-up, secured three delegates.
Hillary Clinton — the former first lady, secretary of State and United States senator from New York — captured 139 of the state’s Democratic delegates with 58 percent of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont gained 106 delegates.
Trump leads Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by more than 300 delegates but faces a challenge in reaching the number required to win the nomination before the Republican convention. Clinton, meanwhile, holds an advantage of more than 700 delegates when superdelegates are counted.
The continuing leads for Trump and Clinton keep alive the question of what evangelical Christians should do in the general election.
The “real possibility” of a Trump-Clinton race in the general election means many evangelical Christians will “face a situation in which they cannot throw their support behind either candidate,” Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford told Baptist Press.
Meanwhile, evidence exists in the primaries that some committed evangelicals are supporting Trump.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, recently pointed to twin realities regarding evangelicals and Trump. “The more you go to church as an evangelical, the less likely you are to vote for Donald Trump,” Stetzer wrote in an April 15 blog post for Christianity Today. Yet, he said, “the most frequently chosen candidate of church-going evangelicals was Donald Trump.”
Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in written comments for BP, “Now is the time for evangelicals to begin repositioning ourselves as something other than the religious special interest arm of the Republican Party. Evangelicals who are registered Republicans and who have voted Republican in every election are still, first and foremost, Christians.
“Our allegiance to Christ and the Gospel transcends our allegiance to the Republican Party,” he said. “If and when the GOP’s platform or politicians are at odds with our Christian convictions, we will leverage our Christianity to criticize the party’s nominee and aspects of the party’s platform.”
While some evangelical leaders have spoken against Trump’s candidacy, a few have thrown their support behind him. Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University’s president, has endorsed Trump, and Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, has spoken favorably of the candidate in appearances at his rallies but has not officially endorsed him.
Though many evangelicals and conservatives have pledged not to vote in the general election for either Trump or Clinton, the evangelical voting pattern in the GOP primaries is somewhat complex, Stetzer pointed out.
“Trump’s support declines with church attendance, but he is still the highest among church attendees…,” he wrote.
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, commented on these realities in an April 19 blog post.
Many self-identified evangelicals who have voted for Trump “are cultural Christians who don’t attend church and who resonate with simplistic slogans like ‘God and country’ and ‘put America first,'” he wrote at The Gospel Coalition website. “Yes, many of Trump’s ‘evangelical voters’ go to prosperity-gospel churches that do not line up with historic evangelical beliefs and identity. But here’s the uncomfortable reality: some of Trump’s evangelical voters are church-going and do believe in evangelical doctrines.”
Evangelicals, Wax said, “must consider the reasons why many churchgoing evangelicals are also supporting Trump. If we fall back on the statistics and polls that minimize this reality, we will fail to ask hard questions about the state of our own congregations, about the political priorities among the people we know and love, about ongoing questions related to loving our neighbors (including immigrants), opposing racial injustice, and sustaining religious liberty for all.”
The resistance to Trump — including the use of the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter — has produced no-vote promises from evangelicals based on his apparent inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on such issues as abortion, religious liberty and immigration; his uncivil, insult-laden rhetoric; and a lifestyle marked by adultery. Questions also have been raised about some of his business enterprises.
In the Republican race, Trump has 844 pledged delegates, while Cruz — who finished third in New York — has 543 and Kasich 147. The nominee needs 1,237 delegates. Trump can reach that goal before the July 18-21 convention, but a strong showing by Cruz in the primary season’s next seven weeks could block the billionaire from clinching the nomination. That might result in a contested convention in Cleveland.
The next round of primaries — April 26 in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — favors Trump, but Cruz is expected to perform much better in many of the states that follow.
Despite Trump’s win in New York “it is still more likely that the convention will be contested,” Ashford told BP.
“In the likely case that he does not win enough bound delegates, we will see a fracas break out, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1976 race between Reagan and Ford, as the candidates jostle with each other to woo delegates for the second ballot,” he said.
Gerald Ford, the incumbent president, turned back the challenge of Ronald Reagan at that year’s GOP convention.
On the Democratic side, Clinton holds what appears to be an insurmountable lead because of her overwhelming advantage among superdelegates. She leads Sanders in pledged delegates, 1,446 to 1,200. Yet, Clinton has 502 superdelegates, who are unpledged party leaders, while her opponent has only 38. Her total of 1,948 leaves her only 435 short of the 2,383 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton’s victory in New York “reveals just how difficult it would be for Sanders to secure the nomination,” Ashford said.
With 99 percent of the New York primary votes recorded at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Trump had won 60 percent, Kasich 25 percent and Cruz 15 percent. Clinton’s total was 58 percent, Sanders’ 42 percent.