CHARLESTON, S.C. — Donald J. Trump has defied conservative orthodoxy on policy, shunned traditional politicking and even insulted prisoners of war and the disabled, sacrosanct constituencies that other candidates would no more slur than they would accept a bag of cash with cameras rolling.
But in a campaign that has seemingly tested every political rule, Mr. Trump’s opponents hope his latest provocation will be too much for well-mannered voters in this heavily evangelical Christian state to bear: his use of a pungently vulgar word this week to describe one of his rivals, Senator Ted Cruz.
Mr. Trump’s raunchy language has become unsurprising at his rallies. And the slur against Mr. Cruz was largely overshadowed by the coverage of the next day’s New Hampshire primary.
But in voicing the crude term, Mr. Trump has further polarized a Republican Party already deeply divided about his candidacy, particularly across class lines.
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His backers, who polls indicate include many without a college degree, see his willingness to speak coarsely as yet another refreshing example of his resistance to political correctness.
His critics, many of them more affluent, view his language as a particularly vivid sign that he lacks basic decency and is ill suited to the nation’s highest office.
The differing reactions are already playing out on the campaign trail.
Rebecca Sardella, who attended a rally for Senator Marco Rubio this week in Myrtle Beach, said she was offended by Mr. Trump’s language.
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“The way he speaks — that doesn’t sound like somebody who really believes in God that much,” said Ms. Sardella, who works for a nondenominational church in North Myrtle Beach. “You want your children to look up at the president of the United States.”
But at a rally Thursday in an arena in Baton Rouge, La., Mr. Trump’s supporters treated his profane remark about Mr. Cruz like the hit song of a touring rock band, pleading with him to let it rip again.
“They’re all saying, ‘Do it! Do it!’ ” he told a clamorous crowd of nearly 10,000, acknowledging their chants.
Savoring the response, Mr. Trump prolonged the tease but ultimately prompted jeers from his supporters by declining to repeat the word.
“Because,” he explained, “even if it’s not a bad word, if it’s a little bit off, they kill me.” He vowed he would never repeat the remark again, prompting a cry of “No!” from somebody in the audience.
Whether Mr. Trump holds to that promise or not, his opponents are trying to use his language against him here, where the next Republican presidential primary votes will be cast next Saturday.
Though it enjoys a deserved reputation for rough-and-tumble politics, South Carolina is also a highly religious state with an expectation of at least surface gentility from its public figures.
“Is anyone here worried about the front-running candidate shouting out obscenities in front of children?” Jeb Bush asked Friday in a forum at Bob Jones University, an evangelical institution in Greenville. Mr. Bush, who has often expressed disbelief at Mr. Trump’s behavior, conjured the unlikely prospect of his decorous father, the former president, behaving in such a fashion.
Mr. Rubio, who has four school-age children, described his discomfort at being asked by them about Mr. Trump’s vulgar remark when it was replayed on television, the offending word bleeped out.
And Mr. Cruz, the object of Mr. Trump’s outburst, sought to portray his opponent’s language as beneath the dignity of the White House. “I’m not sure a lot of voters are excited about having a president who, when he gets upset, begins cursing and yelling vulgarities,” he said in Fort Mill.
Mr. Trump’s cursing from the stage dates back at least to April 2011, when he toyed with running for president and swore repeatedly at an event in Las Vegas. He did not clean up his language last year: In November, he used an expletive to say how intensely he would bomb the Islamic State, a line he has repeated periodically.
He also mouthed a coarse vulgarism at a recent New Hampshire rally, then complained when reporters wrote that he had uttered the word aloud.
It was a similar don’t-blame-me explanation that Mr. Trump used to defend his use of the vulgarism to ridicule Mr. Cruz at his Manchester, N.H., rally Monday night: A woman in the crowd had shouted it, and he only repeated the remark.
“It was a retweet,” Mr. Trump said the next day.
But not all voters here appreciate the distinction.
Leaving an event in Charleston for Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, with her husband and 11-year-old son, Lisa Savage, of James Island, lamented what she called “the bozos” running for the Republican nomination.
She said she would never consider voting for Mr. Trump.
“When I can’t even allow my son to watch somebody on TV who’s running for the presidency because of his language and word choices,” she said, “that’s not going to happen.”
Correction: February 12, 2016
An earlier version of this article misspelled in one reference the surname of a woman who attended a rally for Marco Rubio in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She is Rebecca Sardella, not Sadella.
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