On Friday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump tried to woo evangelical voters at the Values Voter Summit, the annual gathering of social conservative voters hosted by the Family Research Council where Rick Santorum-style social conservatives are more common than New York City real estate moguls. But Trump is trying to preserve his top-of-the-polls standing, and that requires maintaining strong support among evangelicals. “Most importantly,” he said, holding up his copy of the holy book, “I brought my Bible.”
Trump made sure to cover issues important to many conservative evangelical voters. Religious freedom is one of their key talking points these days, and Trump observed, “freedom of religion, so important.” He emphasized his love of Christmas. “I love Christmas. I love Christmas,” he declared as the audience applauded, assuring them that he would bring back the phrase “Merry Christmas” if elected president. The crowd also cheered his promises to negotiate a better deal with Iran and be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Trump lost the audience, however, when he went after one of their favorites, presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who has recently climbed in the polls and who spoke to the group earlier in the day. “You have this clown, Marco Rubio,” Trump said, and the audience booed loudly. Trump persisted, chiding the Florida senator for abandoning his effort to promote comprehensive immigration reform once his poll number began to fall. “If you believe in something, you have to be true to yourself,” said Trump.
Polls show Trump leading among evangelical voters—a fact he brought up several times during his speech. But that support could be thin, especially given his personal history and his past stance in favor of abortion rights. Even though he said his favorite book is the Bible, Trump, a Presbyterian, has refused to name his favorite passage. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” he said last month. And, of course, he’s been married three times.
Trump turned down the initial invitation to the Values Voter Summit, and Tony Perkins, the head of the group hosting the event, responded with some tough words. He said Trump’s absence sent a “message to evangelicals and values voters that he wants their support, but he is not really interested in having a conversation with them.” B