Trump meets privately with evangelical leaders, hoping to keep coalition intact
“It’s very informal, and they’re talking and praying,” an adviser said of the meeting. “It’s not something he broadcasts.”
But as Trump teases a run in 2024, his continued contact with white evangelical Christian leaders in phone calls and regular meetings at Mar-a-Lago is proof that he is determined to keep the coalition that has him under control intact. first delivered to the White House.
It’s a group that Trump recognized early on would be critical to his political trajectory — not just because a cosmopolitan, thrice-married, former Playboy cover star who curses and hurls cruel insults at his enemies politicians lacked a certain appeal to this crowd, but because this crowd is the foundation of modern Republican politics. Since leaving office, this relationship has not changed.
Unlike other politicians, who need Trump’s approval or money, it’s Trump who likely needs the support of evangelicals if he mounts another campaign for the president — especially more so as questions grow about whether the former president’s influence in broader GOP circles is waning.
“I wouldn’t say President Trump has a lock on the support of the evangelical community,” said Tony Perkins, the evangelical chairman of the Family Research Council who has stayed in touch with Trump since leaving the White House. “I think he’s got a solid platform to run on – on what he’s done – but I still think people are going to be looking for a vision for the future, so he’ll have to do that alongside the other candidates. vying for their support.”
According to one attendee, Friday’s meeting was organized by the White-led National Faith Advisory Board, which aims to continue the work of Trump’s White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Neither White nor a spokesperson for the band responded to a request for comment. Attendees at Friday’s intimate Mar-a-Lago gathering included influential evangelical leaders like Pastor Jack Graham, James Dobson and Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
The meeting was not specifically focused on the 2024 election, according to the attendee, although Trump has signaled strongly privately and publicly that he will run again. Instead, Trump’s remarks to the group focused primarily on his administration’s record with the religious community and its complaints against President Joe Biden. Although the rally did not have a set agenda, it came across as a signal to those who were there that Trump is serious about keeping them in the fold.
White evangelical voters helped deliver Trump to the White House in 2016 and turned out in droves to support him again four years later. According to poll data, about 80% of that community voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. The numbers led to a steady stream of criticism that evangelical leaders were acting unprincipled for backing a candidate with such a shaky, if not non-existent, history on their problems. But these leaders say they and Trump are either misunderstood or misrepresented.
“I think people think evangelicals have been duped by President Trump, evangelicals are not morons. They understand that he might not pray six hours a day or be able to quote the Bible backwards, but they believe he is a man who loves our country and has adopted policies consistent with the truth. of the word of God and that’s why they chose him,” said Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas.
Jeffress, a close Trump ally, said he invited the former president to visit his church in December while he was on tour with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in Dallas, and Trump said received a standing ovation.
But as Trump seeks to keep his evangelical supporters in the fold of a potential 2024 bid, other top Republicans are also trying to make inroads in the historically strong voting bloc. Former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all have deep ties to the evangelical community and also met powerful evangelical Christian actors in the early states. voters like Iowa. Jeffress is also an advisory board member for Pence’s political group, Advancing American Freedom, and like others interviewed for this story, said he’s been keeping in touch with a swathe of potential Republican candidates in 2024.
“[Trump] opened a division in the evangelical community. It was a split that was still there and we hadn’t recognized it before, but it opened up a chasm,” said Napp Nazworth, a religion and politics expert and executive director of the American Values Coalition who s strives to counter right-wing media misinformation.
Evangelist and president of Samaritan’s Purse Franklin Graham said he has visited Mar-a-Lago since Trump left the White House and has stayed in touch with Trump and others. But Graham, a former Republican-turned-Independent and son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, doesn’t plan to offer sponsorship until a pitch is set.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of evangelical Christians – they’re all over the place politically and a lot of them didn’t support President Trump, and that’s fine. But I think the majority did, and I think they’ll continue to support him. It’s his policies that have benefited us all,” Graham said.