- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Trump campaign will start an “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition in Miami Friday to fortify a pivotal voting bloc in the wake of a Christian magazine’s editorial calling for his removal and foreign policy moves that disturbed some supporters.

The gathering of about 5,000 supporters at a Florida mega-church also amounts to a public rebuke of those who say President Trump risks losing support from evangelicals because of his impeachment, strident tweets and allegations that pre-date his presidency.

“I think the support is as strong as it’s ever been,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian-conservative nonprofit in Washington. “He has delivered on his promises. Quite frankly, they like the fact he is pushing back at the elitists and the left. They’re tired of being kicked around, and the president is defending their right to be who they are.”

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Mr. Trump is scheduled to convene with evangelicals at El Rey Jesus, also known as King Jesus International Ministry. The venue was chosen because senior pastor Guillermo Maldonado is a key Trump supporter and Florida is a vital state for the president’s reelection prospects.

The campaign said it expects thousands more to join the coalition in the coming months. It also plans to announce other coalitions, including Catholics for Trump and Jewish Voices for Trump, early this year.

More than 80% of white evangelicals preferred Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, according to Pew Research, so retaining their support will be critical for his reelection prospects.

Campaign officials had said in November they were planning to launch the evangelicals coalition, but the date wasn’t set until after a prominent religious magazine, Christianity Today, called for Mr. Trump’s removal from office, causing some to question whether cracks had formed in the president’s firewall of support.

Editor Mark Galli, who is retiring, wrote in a Dec. 19 editorial that Mr. Trump is a “grossly immoral character” and that he abused his office by requesting investigations from Ukraine at the same time he held up military aid. The editorial slammed Mr. Trump’s behavior in business and with women.

Mr. Trump and key surrogates dismissed the publication and said evangelicals still have his back.

“President Trump has an extraordinary record on conservative and faith issues. He has appointed well over 180 solid, conservative federal judges, including two exemplary Supreme Court justices. He has defended religious freedoms and has stood as the most pro-life president we’ve ever had,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement on the coalition launch.

Mr. Perkins, who will attend the Miami event, said evangelicals view Mr. Trump as a boon to their cause, from promoting the use of “Merry Christmas” to his appointment of a hefty slate of conservative judges with pro-life records.

An Associated Press poll released Thursday said white evangelicals were more likely to say abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to threats to a mother’s life than other religious groups. And they were less likely to say the government should bar discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in workplaces, housing or schools, suggesting alignment with the Trump agenda.

At the same time, however, Mr. Trump has upset Christians with his potty-mouth rhetoric on Twitter and at campaign rallies.

“There are some things they’d probably prefer he’d not do,” Mr. Perkins told The Washington Times. “If they have to take that to get the policy outcomes, I think they’re willing to take that.”

Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said voters of faith do not think Mr. Trump is perfect or without sin, “but they do believe he is the right leader with the right policies at this time to protect life, safeguard religious liberty, strengthen the family and defend Israel.”

He also said support is not limited to white evangelicals, noting Friday’s event — which he will attend — is at one of the largest Hispanic churches in the country.

Mr. Perkins said many evangelicals also view the Democrats’ impeachment push as an act of overreach.

“I’ve not heard anything that would suggest to me it was an impeachable act,” Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Trump’s support among Christian groups was tested in October, when he decided to withdraw U.S. troops from a part of Syria near the Turkish border. The withdrawal allowed Turkish forces to overrun American-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria before a ceasefire was negotiated.

At the time, evangelicals worried that Christians and other religious minorities would lose their foothold in this corner of the Middle East, though Mr. Trump moved to alleviate their concerns by offering financial support to relief groups.

Mr. Perkins said the troop withdrawal was one of the few times when he and other evangelicals broke with the White House, though they understood it was part of Mr. Trump’s pledge to disentangle the U.S. from foreign conflicts, so it hasn’t done lasting damage to their bond.

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