Donald Trump’s traveling road show made it to Pat Robertson’s Regent University in Chesapeake, Virginia, on Saturday. Robertson himself addressed the rally, along with several other Religious Right figures: Ralph Reed, who built Robertson’s Christian Coalition into a political powerhouse in the 1990s; Tony Suarez, executive vice president of Samuel Rodriguez’s National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and anti-gay activist Harry Jackson, who made “welcoming remarks” and gave the invocation.
Robertson recalled that the Christian Coalition used to sponsor a conference called “Road to Victory” and wondered if that title might also be appropriate for Trump’s campaign. He recalled having met Trump years ago when he was a “young entrepreneur” at an Evander Holyfield fight. He said Trump, who was facing bankruptcy at the time, told him, “Preacher, don’t count me out. I’m coming back. I’m going to be great again.”
Robertson had a warning for the bookies in Las Vegas: “If you bet against Donald Trump you’re going to lose your shirt.” (Of course, you might not want to wager much based on Robertson’s election predictions; as Kyle noted, Robertson said in 2012 that God had told him that Mitt Romney would be elected president and serve two terms.)
Among the reasons Jackson cited for supporting Trump were the U.S. Supreme Court and the need for a champion to “protect God’s turf.” In his opening prayer, Jackson thanked God for raising up Trump and “this army of Christian believers.” He prayed that Trump and his team would be given God’s wisdom and “speak as the very oracles from your throne.” He suggested that God shares Trump’s campaign slogan: “You want to make America great again.”
Trump was running late, and Reed seemed to have been asked to fill time. He praised the late Justice Antonin Scalia as “one of the most articulate and brilliant voices for conservative judicial thought in American history” and talked about Supreme Court cases that have been decided by 5-4 votes. (Trump has promised to nominate new justices in the mold of Scalia.)
Reed praised Trump’s plan to abolish Obamacare. He got the crowd to boo for former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who Reed said “professes to be a devout and faithful Catholic,” for backing Hillary Clinton’s policies on abortion as her vice presidential running mate. Reed said that 30 million copies of his Faith and Freedom Coalition’s presidential voter guide are being distributed in 35,000 churches “in just the top 10 battleground states.” He said that millions of evangelical Christians did not vote in the last election and said voters should view the right to choose their leaders as “a precious gift from Almighty God.” Said Reed:
You’re gonna be receiving an email from the Trump campaign when this is over. I want you to respond to that email, and I want you to turn your feet into answers to these prayers: that come November 8, no matter what the press and what the polls say, that God’s people are gonna rise up like a mighty army, and they’re gonna show up at the polls, and we are gonna shock the political establishment!
Suarez got cheers and laughter when he stated: “Not only am I a deplorable, but I’m a Latino for Trump. They say we don’t exist.” Rally participants would never have known that Suarez had denounced Trump’s character and campaign in harsh terms less than a year ago. “The only thing more embarrassing than his campaign is watching preachers support Trump and even manipulate scripture to invent false prophecies regarding Trump,” he wrote on Twitter last November. “He’s not ‘the trumpet.’”
Suarez, who said he had lost his wife to cancer a week ago Friday, quoted his boss Samuel Rodriguez saying “prophetically” that “today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.” Suarez said Christians can’t let liberals shape the Supreme Court. In a prayer, he referred to the settlers of Jamestown making a covenant with God, arguing like dominionist David Lane that the U.S. is still under that covenant. Suarez prayed:
Father, we come before you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We stand on holy ground that was dedicated to you over 400 years ago, not too far from where we’re standing. And though our history has changed us, the covenant that those first settlers made stands the same. This land is dedicated to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ… I ask you to bless the United States of America. I ask you to continue to favor our country and our citizens. And I ask that today you would stir up passion amongst our citizens to vote, and to vote according to their Judeo-Christian values. And I ask you to bless this country one more time. Make us great one more time. Continue to prosper us and favor us one more time. And I ask you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, that you would bless our nominee, Mr. Donald J. Trump, with wisdom and knowledge to govern and to lead our nation.
Trump delivered a relatively short version of his stump speech, speaking for just under half an hour, but he made sure to make a pitch for the evangelical vote he is counting on to put him over the top. “One of the greatest privileges of my journey has been the time I have spent with the evangelical community and people of faith across our nation,” he said. “There are no more decent, devoted and selfless people than our Christian brothers and sisters here in the United States.”
Trump promised to “cherish and defend faith and religious liberty” and to get rid of the Johnson Amendment, which restricts electoral politicking by churches and other tax-exempt nonprofits, and which he called “a great disaster for our great people and for our church.”
Trump’s speech included a now-familiar formulation: “Imagine what we could accomplish if we came together as one people, under one God, saluting one American flag.” And as he was wrapping up he made sure to get in another plug for Religious Right leaders’ concerns about religious liberty, saying, “Remember the words religious liberty. It’s a very big part of winning…Our religious liberty is being trampled on, and we can’t let that happen.”