The Brody File was inside Donald Trump’s private meeting with hundreds of evangelical leaders in New York City Tuesday where he discussed the topics of religious liberty, Israel, the Supreme Court, the controversial Johnson Amendment and yes, even the importance of going to church at an early age. More details on all of that are below. How did it go? Well, put it this way: Trump got two standing ovations (one when he came out and one when he left) and he didn’t make any gaffes at all. After talking to many in the room (especially those who were for Cruz in the primaries), they told me they were more comfortable with Trump as the nominee. They realize he’s not perfect but they also know that a Hillary Clinton administration is a far worse alternative. They also told me that they appreciated the fact that Trump appeared before them for nearly two hours. Showing up and making a solid effort impressed them.
Mike Huckabee moderated the event. At the beginning, Huckabee told Trump that he didn’t have to worry about being theological. "You're off the hook on that today,” Huckabee said. Trump seemed happy to be there remarking that, "we are going to spend as much time as we need to."
The conversation turned to his family and Trump explained how he let his kids know that there was to be no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. When it came to going to church, Trump explained that going to church at a young age is such a "tremendous asset."
During the meeting, Trump was asked by Dr. James Dobson about what steps his administration would take to protect religious liberty. Trump mentioned how he would appoint, “great Supreme Court justices.” He then said he wanted to get rid of the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which forbids tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Many believe it restricts pastors from speaking more boldly about politics from the pulpit. Trump told evangelical leaders that, "We're going to get it revoked." If that happens, Trump told the crowd that it “may be my biggest contribution to Christianity." He also brought up the case of Joe Kennedy, the former high school football coach in Washington State who was fired because he wanted to pray with his athletes after football games. "That's a disgrace,” Trump said. “That's going to change…those days are going to be over."
Other questions centered on the topics of race relations, immigration and Israel. He delivered standard, boilerplate answers. "I'm 100 percent for Israel," Trump told the evangelical crowd. And he doesn’t think Benjamin Netanyahu holds this president in high regard. "I can't imagine he likes Obama too much. He's totally forsaken Israel." When the issue of transgenderism in the military came up, Trump didn’t address it. He instead decided to focus about the need for a big military. Some in the room took notice of that.
Trump wasn’t asked about abortion or gay marriage but he was asked about gay rights vs. religious freedom rights. Trump didn’t have a specific answer, only to say, “Ultimately the courts are going to decide." Throughout the meeting, Trump brought up the Supreme Court multiple times, explaining to the evangelical crowd that his judges will be far better than anything Hillary Clinton has to offer.
One theme that Trump kept bringing up is the fact that Christianity in America is under attack. "Government has gotten so involved in your religion,” Trump said. He made the case that evangelicals need to rise to the occasion because their rights are under attack. "You have such power and influence…(but) if you don't band together, you're really not that powerful." That line was met with strong applause.
It was quite a scene to behold, as the hundreds of evangelicals who showed up at the meeting were really a, “Who’s Who” from the evangelical world. Mega Pastors were there; Michele Bachman was even there too. On stage to say kind words about Trump were Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham and Ben Carson. Carson was impressed that Trump would put himself out there like this in front of evangelicals. Franklin Graham made a compelling case on the character issue, arguing that nobody is perfect, citing the fact that Abraham lied, Moses disobeyed God and David committed adultery and murder.
All in all, it was a successful event that marched the ball down the field in Trump’s quest to solidify evangelical support. Is there work to be done? Yes. But we may look back at this meeting as an important turning point in Trump’s effort to consolidate the evangelical vote. These leaders have sway. Trump needs these people. There’s no doubt he made “evangelical inroads” during this meeting.