Trump slams Southern Baptist leader Moore as ‘nasty’

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Despite Donald Trump’s claim that he wants to unite the Republican Party’s diverse elements as its presumptive presidential nominee, the billionaire New Yorker has no qualms about attacking an evangelical influencer in one of the nation’s largest and most conservative denominations.

Theologian Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, criticized Trump in an article published Friday in the New York Times and later in an interview on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” broadcast Sunday.

“The nation faces a crazier election season than many of us ever imagined,” Moore wrote in the piece for the op-ed pages of the newspaper. “The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech did not envision that more than 50 years later, ‘Go back to Africa’ would be screamed at black protesters or that a major presidential candidate would tweet racially charged comments.”

Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the convention, which is the largest U.S. Protestant denomination with 15.5 million members. Almost two-thirds of Southern Baptists vote or lean Republican, according to a Pew Research study.

On CBS, Moore pressed his attack referring to Trump as a symptom of moral decadence:

“What we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon, as well as in the Hillary Clinton phenomenon, is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem,” he said. Unfortunately, he added, these same conservatives are “now are not willing to say anything when we have this reality television moral sewage coming through all over our culture.”

Trump shot back on Monday:

Moore responded with a sense of humor:

He followed up with an Instagram post that cited an Old Testament passage from the Bible:

1 Kings 18:17-19

A photo posted by russellmoore (@russellmoore) on

The back-and-forth on Twitter reveals the broad disunity within the GOP’s constituent groups and the significant proportion of Republican evangelicals who are repelled by Trump and may distance themselves from the party as a result of his leadership role.

“In a sense, we feel abandoned by our party,” Nebraska Baptist pastor Gary Fuller told the Washington Post. “There’s nobody left.”

But Trump has won a significant number of evangelical votes. In March, Geoffrey Layman, who teaches politics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, wrote that Trump won the votes of an average of 36 percent of white evangelical Christians in the first 20 state primaries and caucuses, citing exit polls. Many of them attend church infrequently, he said in the article published in the Washington Post.

“In short, the evangelicals supporting Trump are not the same evangelicals who have traditionally comprised the Christian Right and supported cultural warriors such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz,” Layman said.

Those who call themselves “born-again” or “evangelical” Christians are overwhelmingly Republican – 45 percent, according to the 2014 study from Pew. They make up 36 percent of all registered voters in the U.S. ALmost all, 87 percent, of evangelical protestants are white.

In the meantime, Hillary Clinton has been encouraging disillusioned Republicans to vote for her in the general election Nov. 8, in an attempt to erode support for the former reality television star. Already, some top GOP insiders have reportedly praised her candidacy, including Mark Salter, a top adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 White House bid, and retired CIA director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under both Bush presidencies.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.