Evangelicals Rally For Trump

Jan 4, 2020
Originally published on January 4, 2020 12:29 pm
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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Trump shared the news of Soleimani's killing before an especially friendly audience. He was at an Evangelicals for Trump rally in Miami last night. Many evangelical Christians see President Trump as their protector, and he used Soleimani's assassination to drive home that message.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He was plotting attacks against Americans, but now we've ensured that his atrocities have been stopped for good. They are stopped for good. I don't know if you know what was happening, but he was planning a very major attack. And we got him.

FADEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten was at the rally and joins us now.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So we've heard a lot of concerns raised about what might follow now in the aftermath of that attack. Did President Trump have anything to say about those concerns?

GJELTEN: Nothing at all, actually. He didn't dwell on the attack all that much. He said the killing of Soleimani is a warning that if anyone values their own life, they'd better not threaten American lives. But that was about it. He moved on pretty quickly to focus on the things he sees evangelicals as caring about - social issues, abortion, gun rights. This was a campaign rally. It was billed as the launch of an Evangelicals for Trump coalition for the 2020 election.

FADEL: So as I understand it, this rally was announced very quickly after the evangelical magazine Christianity Today came out with an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office because of his grossly immoral character. Did he mention that?

GJELTEN: He did not, but there is no question he was stung by that attack. Christianity Today is an important evangelical publication, and it's pretty clear Trump felt some need to show there are still a lot of evangelicals sticking by him - that Christianity Today does not speak for them. In fact, a lot of big pro-Trump evangelical leaders were at this rally enthusiastically praising him - people like Paula White, who leads a megachurch here in Florida, and Pastor Robert Jeffress, who leads a big Baptist congregation in Dallas.

Trump made no mention of those evangelicals who are critical of his moral failings. Instead, he cited what he regards as his accomplishments, like appointing conservative judges or moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He made just this one cryptic comment about his own character.

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TRUMP: Pastor Jeffress can tell you I'm good at getting things done. I may not be perfect, but I get things done, right? Right, Robert?

GJELTEN: So there you go, Leila. He admits he's not perfect, but that's as far as he goes. But I'll tell you something. With evangelicals, that's actually a good thing to say because evangelical Christians emphasize that we're all sinners. They focus on the importance of redemption. So when Trump admits to not being perfect, that can actually resonate.

FADEL: Now, this rally was at a church that serves a lot of Latino evangelicals. Is outreach part of the reason the Trump campaign chose it?

GJELTEN: And it is true, Leila, they did choose this church. It's Rey Jesus Church, the King Jesus Church. The pastor here, Guillermo Maldonado - Apostle Maldonado, as he likes to be called - is himself from Honduras. Many of his parishioners are Latino. In fact, I'd say at least half the people at this rally were Hispanic. And that's a change from other Trump rallies where it's been largely a white audience. Many Hispanic evangelicals are fairly conservative on social issues, and the Trump campaign would like their support. Florida is a swing state, and Hispanic evangelicals are swing voters.

FADEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten, thank you so much.

GJELTEN: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.