President Launches 'Evangelicals For Trump' Coalition
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Evangelical Christians have been President Trump's most loyal supporters since he was elected to office. And his reelection effort this year is set to mobilize that group, again. This past Friday, his campaign launched what it is calling an Evangelicals for Trump coalition with a rally at a Miami megachurch. NPR's Tom Gjelten was there.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Miami rally was announced just after the evangelical magazine Christianity Today ran an editorial calling for President Trump's removal from office on account of what the magazine called his immoral conduct. So Trump is eager to show he still has a lot of evangelicals on his side, like Pastor Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Jeffress has stuck with Trump through thick and thin, and he was a key organizer of this rally. Attacking the president over his moral failings, Jeffress says, doesn't necessarily resonate with evangelical Christians.
ROBERT JEFFRESS: The whole basis of the Christian message is - we're all sinners. We all need a savior. There's nobody perfect. And so I think people who understand the Gospel message understand that, and they're not looking for perfection in a leader.
GJELTEN: Evangelical voters are clearly a top priority of the Trump reelection campaign. Losing just a small share of them could cost Trump the election, broadening his evangelical base could win it for him.
This meeting was hosted at a Pentecostal megachurch, El Rey Jesus, King Jesus Church. It serves a largely Latino population in southwest Miami. The Trump campaign chose this church, deliberately, to launch this campaign, seeing Hispanic evangelicals as a group that can be mobilized to support a conservative, explicitly pro-religion cause.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Before my election, religious believers were under assault like never before. You all know that. So many leaders here.
GJELTEN: Speaking to the crowd, Trump claimed to have won new protection for faith-based groups and Christian leaders, many of whom he said had been targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to abandon their religion beliefs or stop serving their communities.
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TRUMP: But the day I took office, I got sworn in, the federal government's war on religion came to a very abrupt end.
GJELTEN: The idea of a president sticking up for Christians is part of what made Marta Rivero a Trump supporter.
MARTA RIVERO: I think he takes our opinion into account when he makes decisions about, you know, issues that we care about.
GJELTEN: For her husband, Emiliano Rivero, it's the good economic news that has sold him on Trump.
EMILIANO RIVERO: He is a businessman. He's picked up this country a whole lot. The economy is good right now. There's a lot of work.
GJELTEN: The Riveros are immigrants - Marta from Colombia, Emiliano from Cuba. South Florida is home to many people whose experience of socialism in Cuba, in Venezuela, in Nicaragua has made them leery of what they see as left-wing ideology. And in his speech, Trump fanned those fears, saying the left in America wants to replace God with socialism. Many people here who voted for Trump say they did so reluctantly, in part because of the concerns about his temperament. Tammy Juanita Scott Wise admits Trump's language and tweets sometimes make her cringe, but she forgives him.
TAMMY JUANITA SCOTT WISE: You know, we're not perfect people. Christians are not perfect, but we are working to let God change us from the inside out. And I think he's trying to do that.
GJELTEN: In fact, she concluded after listening to Trump that he's a different person than he was three years ago.
WISE: The Donald Trump that I saw today was a very relaxed, much less cantankerous man than I've known him to be in the past. And I see God working in his life.
GJELTEN: Less cantankerous, maybe? Or perhaps everyone, including evangelical Christians, have just gotten used to Donald Trump's behavior and give it less heed.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.