But it was also flexible. For all the efforts by DeSantis and his evangelical allies to court the conservative Christian vote, Trump not only dominates the caucus, but is counting on it to fuel his massive lead in Iowa ahead of Monday's caucuses. Evangelicals, an important segment of the GOP that once blocked his rise in 2016, are now a key reason he's ahead.
“Of course I'm caucusing for President Trump,” said Judy Billings, a faithful member of the congregation, clutching her Bible as she entered the foyer. “I love the boy. I think he is a total hero and he has my full support … I think only he can win and lead our country.
In 2016, evangelicals were a primary weak point for Trump. But eight years later — after the party took a hard turn toward Trump-ism — they now sit firmly in his corner. Most recently
Des Moines Iowa Polling Register Released Saturday night, Trump received support from 51 percent of evangelical Christians in Iowa who plan to attend the GOP caucus, 22 percent ahead of DeSantis.
Even evangelicals who support Trump's opponents can see the writing on the wall. Last week, Vander Platts wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday
In a Des Moines newspaper While predicting that Trump “could win the primary,” “the establishment and the number of Trump haters will never allow him to win the presidency.”
But the lead up to this year's caucuses, a GOP primary, has shown that speaking the language of evangelicals is not a prerequisite for winning them over. Two evangelical-identifying candidates have talked relentlessly about their faith and are the most Bible-literate Republicans in the race — former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott – The first to leave.
They appeal to voters whose church attendance and personal beliefs are similar to theirs without difficulty of scripture and Christian principles. Trump, who has traveled to the state in recent months for rallies and caucuses — who has been married three times and lost a defamation lawsuit by a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her during this campaign cycle — doesn't read or care to read Bible verses. It prompts Iowans to lean on their faith.
He doesn't need to. They are already with him.
In recent years Trump has emerged as a messianic figure among some, if not all, sections of the conservative evangelical church. This month, the former president began sharing a video of “God made Trump” online and at his rallies, saying God had appointed him “caretaker” of a “planned paradise” and “a figure who wants to go into a cave of snakes.”
On Sunday, church leaders in Sotheria saved Lake and his entourage a row of seats front and center. Vander Blatts and his wife sat four pews away from her.
“Both the caucuses and the Republican nomination for president are run by the evangelical community,” said longtime evangelical king Ralph Reed. “There is no path to this nomination without winning a plurality, and a healthy diversity of these voters, starting in Iowa and then running through the rest of the primaries.”
DeSantis made a specific play for Iowa's conservative Christians by trying to follow the Texas Sen model. Ted Cruz’s successful 2016 caucus campaign and, at times, invoked scriptures on the campaign trail. But doing so never felt like a natural approach for the Catholic Florida governor, who rarely discussed his faith in public before his presidential bid.
Haley doesn't turn her stump speeches into Bible lessons, choosing instead to focus her time discussing the domestic and foreign policy issues she tackles, and uses her experience as a mother to draw on audiences in a more personal way, using openness rather than conviction. the way
Haley and DeSantis weren't without supporters at Sotheria on Sunday. In separate interviews, church attendee Nathan Peterson said he wanted to caucus Haley, and Rick Kissling said he would show up for DeSantis.
But both said they are likely to vote for Trump in the general election if he runs for the Republican nomination.
Trump has undoubtedly made significant gains with evangelical voters since the 2016 caucuses and party primaries that year. Cruz captured 34 percent of the evangelical vote in Iowa, while Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio Divide the remainder equally. On Sunday, Rubio endorsed Trump.
At the soteria, in the lobby after the service, Vander Blatts held court with fellow church members and the DeSantis transplants who braved the sub-zero temperatures to attend. Asked if he thought Lake was trying to troll him by showing him off, Vander Platts shrugged and laughed.
“I don't care if she is,” he said. “She's welcome to be here—at least she heard the good news.”
Lake stressed his presence at his church on Sunday. In town to stump Trump, she said she wanted to attend a worship service, and her staff took her to it.
“President Trump has proven himself” by achieving key policy goals of conservative Christians while in office, Lake said after Sunday's service.
Asked about evangelicals' initial reluctance toward the real estate mogul and media personality, Lake noted how much has changed since then.
“2016 now seems like ancient history.”