God is on our side, Trump tells evangelical base

Pastor Guillermo Maldonado of El Rey Jesus church in Miami praying for US President Donald Trump before the latter's speech to evangelical supporters in Miami on Friday. Those on stage included Ms Cissie Graham Lynch (in yellow and black dress).
Pastor Guillermo Maldonado of El Rey Jesus church in Miami praying for US President Donald Trump before the latter's speech to evangelical supporters in Miami on Friday. Those on stage included Ms Cissie Graham Lynch (in yellow and black dress).PHOTO: REUTERS

He touts his faith-based policies, calls Democrats anti-religious

MIAMI • In his first public appearance since ordering the strike that killed Iran's Major-General Qassem Soleimani, US President Donald Trump rallied his evangelical Christian base of supporters on Friday, portraying himself as the restorer of faith in the public square and claiming that God is "on our side".

Mr Trump brought on to the stage Ms Cissie Graham Lynch, a granddaughter of the late Billy Graham, the founder of Christianity Today, to offer an implicit rebuke of the magazine's recent editorial calling for his removal from office.

Ms Lynch's appearance underscored how sensitive Mr Trump was about any signs of fracturing in his base; many evangelical allies denounced the editorial, and Ms Lynch vowed on Friday to help Mr Trump win re-election.

She then welcomed a supporter who told attendees that they could not trust what the news media wrote about the President.

Mentioning the attack in Baghdad only briefly, Mr Trump spent his hour-long speech at Ministerio Internacional El Rey Jesus, a church with a predominantly Hispanic congregation, alternating between his familiar mocking jabs at Democrats, whom he repeatedly called anti-religious, and boasting about his own faith-based policies.

Saying he would renew the importance of religion and family, Mr Trump vowed that he would toughen restrictions on abortion and would take action to "safeguard students and teachers' First Amendment rights to pray in our schools".

In remarks highlighting his support for Israel, Mr Trump also attacked Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

"Where do these people come from?" Mr Trump said. "These people hate Israel. They hate Jewish people."

"Evangelical Christians of every denomination and believers of every faith have never had a greater champion, not even close, in the White House, than you have right now," Mr Trump said.

 
 

"We've done things that nobody thought was possible. Together, we're not only defending our constitutional rights. We're also defending religion itself, which is under siege."

Mr Trump began his remarks at the Florida church event by mentioning the killing of Maj-Gen Soleimani and praising the military, on a day when many Democratic officials and presidential candidates questioned the President's decision to order the strike and whether he has a broader strategy to deal with potential reprisals from Iran.

"He was planning a very major attack, and we got him," he added of Maj-Gen Soleimani.

"We do not seek war, we do not seek nation-building, we do not seek regime change, but, as President, I will never hesitate to defend the safety of the American people."

Mr Trump, who rarely made church visits in the 2016 presidential campaign and once mistook the plate offering communion for the collection plate, was described by his favourite pastor and current White House aide, Ms Paula White, as a man of God who is "loyal to a T".

He again taunted Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts by referring to her as "Pocahontas" and mocked Mr Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has spoken frequently about his faith, by claiming the presidential hopeful had become religious just "two weeks ago".

"We can't let one of our radical left friends come in here because everything we've done will be gone in short order," he said. "They can take it away pretty quickly."

 
 

Mr Trump has been gripped by anxiety over evangelical voters abandoning him since soon after he took office. He has frequently tried to shore up his connection to evangelicals throughout his first term, repeatedly pointing to his move to fill dozens of open federal judicial posts with conservative jurists.

He was surprised when the publication Christianity Today recently wrote an editorial calling for his removal from office amid the House impeachment inquiry. Roughly 200 evangelicals wrote a letter denouncing the editorial - and several evangelical leaders said it did not reflect a majority view among their voters.

Still, Mr Trump was troubled by it, according to people close to him.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 05, 2020, with the headline 'God is on our side, Trump tells evangelical base'. Print Edition | Subscribe