Religious conservatives are putting aside their misgivings as they seek to unite against Clinton.
Donald Trump is finally preaching to the choir.
Evangelicals were a weak point for Trump in the Republican primary, and he publicly fretted last month that they might not turn out for him on Election Day.
But at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, the 2,200 Christian conservatives who gathered in Washington seemed united in their plans to vote for Trump, if not their enthusiasm.
“One of the greatest privileges of my journey has been the time I’ve spent with the evangelical community,” Trump said, as he addressed the crowd on Friday afternoon.
“A lot of people said, I wonder if Donald will get the evangelicals. I got the evangelicals,” Trump added, drawing tepid, almost sheepish applause.
In fact, with a few key exceptions, Trump didn’t win the evangelical vote during the primaries. But now they’re putting aside their misgivings — and abandoning plans to stay home on Election Day — as they acknowledge the threat from the alternative, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which sponsors the Values Voter Summit.
“It’s very strongly anti-Clinton,” Perkins said in an interview. “I think we’ve got to be very candid with where we are. Most conservatives were not with Donald Trump in the primary, but now they have a clear choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.”
Perkins added, “And some would say, ‘Well, we’re not certain what Donald Trump will do.’ OK. But we do know what Hillary Clinton will do, and I think that is what is moving people more and more into the Trump column.”
It’s the same argument that single-issue groups, like the National Rifle Association and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, have been making to members for months. And while evangelicals say a range of issues — not to mention tone and faith — factor into their votes, they say that the balance of the Supreme Court and perceived threats to religious liberty are motivating them to back a candidate who hasn’t totally convinced them he’s a Christian.
“Let’s just say I wish his beliefs were stronger and more evident in his daily life,” said Dan Weber of Lady Lake, Florida — not far from the Republican stronghold of The Villages — of the thrice-married Republican. “I was thinking of eliminating him because of that. If he can be believed where he said he’s gonna do the right things — but they all say that.”
A supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the primaries, Weber added, “If he appoints center-right, right justices, I think we’ll be doing OK.”
Cheryl Eslinger of Richmond, Virginia, said her ideal candidate was former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and that Christian faith is important in a leader. But ultimately, Trump’s personal life just doesn’t matter much to her.
“God doesn’t pick the best people to do his will,” said Eslinger. “I don’t think Americans could handle the best for them.”
Eslinger added, pointing to Santorum’s failed primary runs, “I think we’ve gone too far in ‘anything goes’ that anyone who wanted to do good would be frowned upon.”
Former Rep. Michele Bachmann expressed a similar idea last month when she said, “At the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump, who was going to be the nominee in this election.” On Friday, she compared the election to the choice God laid out in Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, which will you choose?”
Born-again voters have turned out for people they didn’t identify with before. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith was a turnoff for many evangelicals, some of whom view Mormonism as a cult rather than Christianity. But 78 percent of them voted for Romney in 2012, and evangelicals have consistently represented about a quarter of American voters in presidential elections.
Trump on Friday repeated an erroneous claim he made when speaking to Christian clergy last month when he insisted that evangelicals hadn’t turned out for Romney and thus cost the Republican the race.
“You didn’t vote four years ago. You didn’t vote,” Trump said, drawing yells of “I did!” from the crowd.
Still, the Family Research Council is trying to drive that vote up even higher.
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