Donald J. Trump told a gathering of social and religious conservatives Friday that he would push to lift a ban that has barred churches and other tax exempt groups from endorsing political candidates, joking that it could be his ticket into heaven.
Since wrapping up the GOP nomination and turning his attention to a general election match-up with Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has been making overtures to the social conservatives that have been an integral part of the Republican coalition, and came here Friday to speak to thousands of social conservatives at the 11th Annual Values Voters Summit.
“The first thing we have to do is to give our churches their voice back,” Mr. Trump said. “I will repeal the Johnson Amendment if I am elected your president.”
Mr. Trump said in jest that he figures scrapping the 1950’s era provision named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson “is the only way I am getting into heaven.”
A major question coming into the 2016 election was whether social conservatives, who traditionally man the phones and knock on doors in political campaigns, would rally behind Mr. Trump because of his evolution on abortion, two divorces and high-profile extramarital affairs in the 1990s.
Looking to assuage some of those concerns, Mr. Trump has showcased his children, who have impressed even skeptical conservatives, and tapped Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a well-respected social conservative, as his running mate.
On the policy front, he has promised to nominate Supreme Court justices that will uphold the Constitution, defend “religious liberty,” repeal and replace Obamacare and fight to expand school choice for students that are trapped in failing schools.
He also has vowed to defeat ISIS.
“Let me state this upfront: in a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be protected, defended like you have never seen before,” he said.
He also has surrounded named high-profile figures to his Evangelical Advisory Board, including Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which hosted the summit here, and former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who praised Mr. Trump’s stances on immigration, foreign policy and taxes.
“On every single level if you look at the agenda that Donald Trump has put forward, it has been one that I as a Constitutional conservative, as believer in Jesus Christ, cannot only easily embrace, but readily embrace,” Mrs. Bachmann said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said “let’s lock arms and do what we can to elected Donald Trump president of the United States.”
“The Left is launching an assault on our culture,” Mr. Priebus said. “They want to strip God out of the public square. Our nation’s religious heritage has helped make us what we are today. No America with religious convictions will have to bow at the altar of secularism if Donald Trump is president.”
Mr. Trump has won some converts.
“I was with Ted Cruz, and so I kind of said I am going to hold my nose because I have to vote, so I will hold my nose and vote for Trump, but since he has become more presidential I have been very impressed with him,” said Sandra Seaver of Maine. Mrs. Seaver added, “I used to hold my nose and now it is like, ‘Woo-hoo, let’s go!’”
Others said Mr. Trump might not be the perfect fit for them, but his reluctance to bow to political correctness is appealing and the fact that he is not Mrs. Clinton makes him good enough.
“If you don’t vote for Trump it is essentially a vote for Hillary,” said Jim Chamberlin, of Ohio.