HOUSTON -- If today’s Republican Party had a mother church, it might be Joel Osteen’s suburban Lakewood Church, an evangelical outreach machine with an arena sanctuary, 50,000 members and a service on Sirius radio, so that you can be saved via satellite.
It’s also a good place to see where the GOP’s 36-year-old Reagan-built base is becoming outmoded, like the Brutalist architecture of the downtown buildings here and the shabby concrete on the triple-decker highway overpasses.
In many ways, Donald Trump is the logical summation and endpoint of a Republican Party built primarily on the support of straight, church-going white people, especially in the South.
And interviews with some of the Lakewood faithful suggest that if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee, that demographic could well become a prison from which there would be no escape other than a woman named Hillary in the White House.
After Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, the Republican National Committee published a blunt self-analysis, insisting that the party would face doom if it did not massively reach out to Latinos, gay people, millennials and the rest of the remixed society of 21st-century America.
At Lakewood, where the main interest is saving souls wherever you can find them and whatever they look like, they understand what the GOP analysts were saying.
A recent youth service in the early evening looked like any concert scene, except that of the thousands of young people in the rows and aisles, some were clutching dog-eared study Bibles as they swayed to loud country-rock tunes about being saved.
It was a hip, integrated young crowd: interracial couples, plenty of piercings, hobnail boots, neon hair. And no love for Trump.
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a fringe candidate,” said Charlie Hurd, 26, a former college basketball player who now teaches elementary school gym. He sat in a side row with a Bible open on his lap.
“His whole thing is to say nasty things and not offer anything real," Hurd said. "And the things he is offering aren’t going to help.”
Preston Jameson, 24, a mattress store manager, said that he was sticking with home-state Sen. Ted Cruz in part because he doesn’t buy the idea that Trump is a real Christian, given his bluster and bitter antagonisms. “I want a politician who's motivated by faith in God," he said.
Trump is doing well among evangelicals generally, and may well win the category in most of the states on Super Tuesday. But the sentiment at the Lakewood youth service is a larger warning for the party, in 2016 and beyond.
An afternoon service for Latinos, held in both Spanish and English and attended by several thousand people, offered up even more for the GOP to worry about. Evangelical Christian Latinos, many of whom are converts from Catholicism, are a growing and increasingly important constituency in realms of both faith and politics.
They are the tip of the spear of what was, once upon a time, the Bush family’s successful effort to reach out for Latino votes. In his second-term races for both governor of Texas and president of the U.S., George W. Bush won over 40 percent of that vote.
To judge by some of the comments after the Latino service, if the election were held today, Trump would get zero.
“If Donald Trump is the nominee, then Hillary Clinton will be president and none of the people here today will vote for him,” said Hilda Flores, a Republican who owns a wedding venue business. “I am a Republican, but the idea that he is going to try to deport 11 million people -- wrong! Wrong!"
"I’m not for Ted Cruz either, for that reason," she went on. "I’m going with Marco Rubio. At least he has tried to do something to make a deal on that.”
Patrick Campbell, a white man who was attending the service with his Latina wife, agreed as he hurried out the door with his kids.
“Donald Trump?" he said. "Forget it!”
In 2012, Romney won only 27 percent of the Latino vote. He lost badly among millennials as well.
Trump -- who's unpopular with Hispanic voters and under-30 voters nationwide -- will have to do a YUGE amount of repenting if he hopes even to approach Romney's performance among the youth and Latinos of Lakewood, judging from the Sunday before Super Tuesday.
Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed reporting.