- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2015

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump walked into the weekend’s Values Voter Summit with a Bible in hand and walked out the fifth-place choice in the annual gathering’s straw poll, underscoring just how much of a tough sell the billionaire businessman has in winning over the party’s influential religious conservative voters.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the straw poll for the third straight year, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Despite Mr. Trump’s lackluster result, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which hosted the conference, said the billionaire businessman nevertheless helped himself by simply showing up for the event, which focused heavily on “religious liberty,” ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood and confronting radical Islamic militants.

“It is part of beginning a conversation if he wants to build a relationship with evangelicals,” Mr. Perkins said of Mr. Trump’s first appearance at the annual gathering. “And, quite frankly, I think a fifth-place showing for Donald Trump here is actually pretty good.”

Mr. Trump opened his remarks by holding up a Bible, which he said was from First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, New York, and told the audience that his mother had written his home address in it as a child in case he lost it.

“I saw this and I said I have to bring it and just show it, because it brings back so many memories,” he said.

It was a naked overture to evangelical and born-again Christians, who made up 57 percent of Republican caucus-goers in Iowa and 65 percent of the Republican primary electorate in South Carolina in 2012.

Mr. Perkins said that means candidates will have to have strength within the ranks of social and religious conservative voters to win the Republican nomination.

Many of the more than 2,500 attendees said they were either reluctant to support Mr. Trump or still trying to get a grasp of where he stands on the issues and whether he is truly a godly man.

Louise Horner, 70, said she liked Mr. Trump but was leaning toward supporting Mr. Cruz or Mr. Huckabee.

Trump says exactly what we Americans want to hear. But oh my goodness, I feel like his mother — I want to say ‘Stop right there, don’t say anything more,’” Mrs. Horner said.

“But he goes on and backs himself into a corner. I wish he wouldn’t do that,” she said. “I think he has a lot of good ideas and I think he is good, but then he’ll say something stupid. So I think while I like a lot of Trump’s ideas and all, I think that I seriously want to pray and think about it, and I think it is between Huckabee and Ted Cruz.”

Gina Gallo of Illinois also liked how Mr. Trump shook up the field of candidates but said she did not know whether she could bring herself to support him.

“He is an entertainer, and he knows how to stir the pot,” she said, adding that she liked Mr. Rubio.

Annamarie Kelly, also of Illinois, laughed after she spotted Mr. Trump exiting the event with his security detail in tow.

“He is hysterical,” she said. “He is not presidential material, really, but it’s like the pope — he is shaking it up a little,” said Ms. Kelly, who was leaning toward Mr. Cruz.

Rivals have tried to raise additional doubts about Mr. Trump, led perhaps by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who finished eighth in the straw poll.

Mr. Jindal won sustained applause after labeling the New York billionaire a “narcissist” and telling the audience, “He hasn’t read the Bible

“You know he hasn’t read the Bible because his name’s not in the Bible,” Mr. Jindal said, sparking laughter and applause.

Political analysts say social conservatives could have a tough time swallowing Mr. Trump’s shift from pro-choice to pro-life, as well as his recent assertion that the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage “is the law of the land.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president and an original organizer of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group, said social conservatives are concerned about “how deep his convictions go on life, marriage and religious liberty.”

“We all love converts on the life issue, but explaining deep personal change on intellectual and political levels evidences authenticity. This movement knows that shallow roots usually lead to advocacy shifts, including shifts in the general election,” she said, adding that Mr. Trump’s blunt leadership style also can be off-putting.

Ed Martin, president of the Eagle Forum, suggested that the door is open for Mr. Trump to win over social conservatives.

“Many conservatives I talk to are listening to Trump and others because they don’t believe the politicians will do anything they say. Trump has to earn their votes, but they are listening,” Mr. Martin said.


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