No matter how much American politics have changed during this election cycle, one eternal truth remains: Republicans need evangelical voters. Even Donald Trump, the man of botched Bible verses and many wives, is making moves to win over conservative Christians. On Tuesday, he met with more than 1,000 mostly evangelical leaders, along with some Catholics, in a closed-to-the-press meeting in New York City. Big names—from former presidential candidate Ben Carson to the Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to the pollster George Barna—apparently spoke at the event, while Trump took pre-selected questions in a discussion moderated by the former presidential candidate and preacher Mike Huckabee. But while Trump has a number of vocal evangelical cheerleaders, and leaders gave him a hearing on Tuesday, many conservative Christians are still wary of the presumptive Republican nominee.
In remarks early in the event, Trump hit everything from his suspicions of Hillary Clinton’s religious past to the war on Christmas to the role of prayer, according to tweeted video from E.W. Jackson, an African American Christian radio host and the founder of Exodus Faith Ministries. “Some of the people were saying, ‘Let’s pray for our leaders,’” Trump said. “Well, you can pray for your leaders, and I agree with that. Pray for everyone. But what you really have to do is you have to pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person. We can’t be, again, politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders, because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling evangelicals down the tubes.” He bragged about his record of winning evangelical votes in the South Carolina primary, and promised that, when he’s elected president, “we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” He also emphasized the way he’s raised his family. “The relationship and bond you have with your family is one of the most admirable I have ever seen, and is one of the reasons I don’t hesitate to endorse you,” Huckabee later said, according to Ann White, the founder of In Grace Ministries in Georgia, who was in the room for the main event.