Real estate billionaire and celebrity presidential candidate Donald Trump has apparently decided that claiming the Bible is his favorite book isn’t enough to earn him the continued support of the more religious elements of the Republican Party. According to a document leaked to The Wall Street Journal, he has summoned dozens of influential evangelical Christian leaders to a meeting at Trump Tower in New York City next month.
Yes, Trump -- the thrice-married former reality television star, erstwhile supporter of abortion rights, purveyor of pageants that parade scantily clad teenage girls in front of television cameras, the man whose name is emblazoned on casinos around the world -- is currently leading the Republican field among the most deeply religious segment of the GOP electorate.
However, Trump isn’t taking the evangelical vote for granted. A senior adviser told the Journal that Trump will gather the leaders for a “prayer service.”
Trump’s occasional nods to religion throughout the campaign so far have seemed like afterthoughts. He mentioned at one point that he can’t remember ever asking God for forgiveness, and he talks about the Bible in the same breath as his own bestseller, “The Art of the Deal.” (Though he says he believes that the Bible is the better book.)
The outreach to evangelicals, who make up a vocal element of the GOP base, appears to be an effort to expand and solidify Trump’s own base beyond voters who are just generally angry with the government and those particularly concerned about illegal immigration.
Trump is certainly getting some love from the Christian right. On Wednesday, David Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, wrote an adulatory column on the “magic of Donald Trump” following the billionaire’s well-publicized tangle with Univision newscaster Jorge Ramos on Tuesday night.
“Many politicians wouldn’t have the stomach for the fight or if they did engage, they wouldn’t have turned the tables as deftly as Trump,” Brody wrote. “That’s what voters want. They want a fighter. They want someone who is going to dish it back to agenda-setting reporters. You see, when it comes to the liberal mainstream media, conservative voters hold a true disdain for the lot of them but they don’t feel they have the power or bully pulpit to fight back against them. Trump is their bully pulpit. Trump is their voice. And that my friends, is the magic of Trump.”
Trump delivered an “attaboy” to Brody in his increasingly influential Twitter feed on Wednesday.
The idea of the Christian right getting behind Trump – and it’s not clear that the leaders are actually on board at this point – must seem like part of a continuing nightmare for the other candidates in the race.
Trump has already grabbed the “angry” vote, much of which might otherwise have gravitated to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. If he can start to solidify support among members of the Christian right, that would also hurt Cruz, who just this week hosted a conference call with conservative pastors from across the country.
But it would also take a big bite out of Mike Huckabee, himself a former evangelical pastor, as well as other highly religious candidates including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and, probably to a lesser extent, former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Whether Trump can really attract a strong following among evangelicals is an open question. But what’s not is whether Trump can consistently beat expectations when it comes to amassing supporters.