After Conviction, Trump Presents Himself as a Martyr to the Christian Right


Former President Donald J. Trump addressed the evangelical Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington on Saturday, presenting himself as a champion of religious freedom and a martyr for Americans of faith while denouncing what he described as a mass persecution of Christians.

Mr. Trump also portrayed himself as having “wounds all over,” alluding to his legal troubles while suggesting that he was being targeted for his political beliefs.

“In the end, they’re not after me, they’re after you,” Mr. Trump said. “I just happen to be, very proudly, standing in their way.”

He added to raucous applause, “We need Christian voters to turn out in the largest numbers ever to tell Crooked Joe Biden ‘you’re fired!’”

Mr. Trump’s appeals to the evangelicals come at a crucial phase in the presidential campaign. President Biden and Mr. Trump will face off in an unusually early debate on CNN on Thursday, as polls reflect a tightening of the race. FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate of national polls show Mr. Biden very slightly ahead of Mr. Trump for the first time since recording began in March, while its election forecast shows the outcome of the race as effectively a coin flip.

Mr. Biden traveled to Camp David, the presidential country retreat, this weekend to prepare for the debate. He is joined by Ron Klain, his former chief of staff, who has taken time away from his post-White House career to help the president prepare, along with other key advisers.

The appearance marked something of a triumphant return to the event for the former president as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Thirteen years ago, Mr. Trump was hardly the image of a social conservative warrior. Now, in his ninth appearance before the group, the former president threw his support behind many of the culture war flash points adopted by conservative and religious leaders, and outlined his vision of what he can offer the Christian right in a second term as president.

He endorsed Louisiana’s new law mandating that the Ten Commandments be hung in every public classroom, wondering aloud how anyone could possibly oppose the inclusion of the religious text in schools and adding “the right to religion does not end at the door at a public school.”

He also vowed to “shut down the federal Department of Education” if elected, a promise that got a standing ovation from attendees, as members began chanting “vote, vote, vote.”

He again repeated his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and wove a narrative of the Biden administration persecuting Christians for their faith, while suggesting that his own legal troubles had made him a martyr on behalf of his supporters. He said that he would, if elected, “create a new federal task force on fighting anti-Christian bias nationwide”

Mr. Trump’s fiery and righteous rhetoric was fused with his efforts to placate some in the Christian right who say his policies on abortion do not go far enough. Allies of Mr. Trump have pleaded with the former president to back a national abortion ban, or to adopt plans to criminalize abortion pills through enforcing the Comstock Act.

On those issues, Mr. Trump did not give evangelical hard-liners what they were hoping for. Mr. Trump repeated his assurances that supporters of harsher restrictions should “go with your heart,” but, he added, “we have to get elected, we have to win.”

Michael Whatley, a close ally of Mr. Trump who leads the Republican National Committee, supported Mr. Trump’s stance against a national abortion ban after his own address to the evangelical group, which preceded Mr. Trump’s.

“We fought for over 50 years to end the tyranny of Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Whatley said to reporters after his own address to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, adding that “this is a discussion that needs to take place in each and every state.”

He continued, “We feel very good about the campaign and where we’re going to go on that issue.”

Donald Eason, the senior minister of the Metro Church of Christ in the suburbs of Detroit who attended the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s conference, said he supported leaving the issue of abortion to the states.

“Whatever powers were not given to the federal government are automatically part of state government. The Supreme Court should never have gotten involved in that in the first place,” Mr. Eason said, but left the door open to national restrictions, adding “Congress, obviously, could step in and make it a national ban.”

Mr. Eason also said he supported Louisiana’s law regarding the Ten Commandments in public classrooms, saying that the policy should be expanded to other states.

When Mr. Trump addressed members of the Faith & Freedom Coalition last year, he was just one of many Republican presidential candidates vying for the support of the Christian right — including former Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina.

Now Mr. Trump has reasserted control over the Republican Party, and his vanquished primary rivals are off the stage — replaced by allies, some of whom are contending to be his running mate, including Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic representative from Hawaii, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Ben Carson, his former housing secretary.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, who had flirted with running for president this year but ultimately declined to oppose Mr. Trump for the nomination, was given a prized platform at the conference as one of the last speakers to address the group before Mr. Trump took the stage.



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