Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump met with hundreds of evangelical Christian leaders in Manhattan on Tuesday, at a closed-door meeting where attendees said he vowed to appoint socially conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and pledged to fight against religious restrictions, such as policies banning prayer in schools.
Trump, looking to make inroads with a key voting bloc for the GOP, first met privately with a handful of prominent conservative Christian leaders Tuesday morning, then spoke before hundreds of other evangelical ministers and activists at an invitation-only conference at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
Both events were closed to media, but several of the attendees posted video clips of his remarks on social media and spoke about his comments to reporters afterward.
At the smaller gathering Trump said the nation’s political leaders were “selling Christianity down the tubes,” and took-aim at Hillary Clinton, questioning the presumptive Democratic nominee’s relationship to her faith, according to video-footage of the event posted on Twitter by E.W. Jackson, a conservative minister and radio talk show host.
“We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. She’s been in the public eye for years and years and . . . there’s nothing out there,” Trump said of the former secretary of state, who has previously spoken about her Methodist upbringing.
Clinton’s campaign issued a statement from Deborah Fikes, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, who endorsed Clinton and said, “Trump’s proposals are not just un-Christian — they’re un-American and at odds with the values our country holds dearest.”
Trump urged the intimate gathering of leaders to rally behind “one specific person” instead of offering broad prayers to the entire field of candidates .
“What you really have to do, is you have to pray for everybody to come out to vote for one specific person,” Trump said in the clip. “We can’t be, again, politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders, because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, the Evangelicals down the tubes, and it’s a very, very . . . bad thing.”
At the later gathering, billed as a “Conversation about the Future of America with Donald Trump,” the real estate mogul shared the stage with former Republican presidential contenders turned campaign supporters, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee, and answered questions for nearly 90 minutes on issues ranging from immigration to abortion.
When the eight prominent evangelical leaders who organized the event were asked at a press conference to raise their hands if they were prepared to endorse Trump following the meeting, none raised their hands.
“I don’t think people are leaving here with their minds made up . . . but he did move the needle,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.
Mark Gonzales, a Texas pastor and founder of the Hispanic Action Network, a San Antonio-based group that mobilizes conservative Hispanic voters, said Trump still had to improve his standing among Latino voters who are angered by his description of Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals.”
“The verdict is still out,” Gonzales said.