Donald Trump wrapped up his day on the campaign trail saying Hillary Clinton is “being so protected she could walk into this arena right now and shoot somebody with 20,000 people watching right smack in the middle of the heart and she wouldn’t be prosecuted, OK.’’
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He added: “That’s what’s happening. That is what’s happened to our country. I never thought I’d see the day where this has happened to our country.”
The remarks this evening at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, followed his visit to the nation's capital earlier today to meet not with prominent politicians, but perhaps a group even more influential in this election: evangelical voters.
"A Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended like you have never seen before. Believe me," he told the crowd assembled at the 2016 Values Voters Summit. "And that includes religious liberty."
This is not Trump’s first appearance at the Summit. Last fall, almost a year ago, he was here, still in a highly contested battle against over a dozen other GOP hopefuls. Though he brought his Bible, raising it high above his head, his scathing attacks in front of the Christian crowd garnered a mixed reaction.
“You have this clown, Marco Rubio,” he scoffed, as boos erupted through the crowd. And in a quip that now seems prescient, Trump, touting his poll numbers, declared, “If I’m so high in all these categories, why do we even have to have an election, right? Why? Why?”
Trump, of course, would go on to trounce all his Republican rivals but, at the time, white evangelicals still remained wary. A Pew Research study showed that evangelicals were among those most skeptical of Trump throughout the primaries, with 49 percent of white evangelical Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters not having backed him as the party’s nominee during primary season.
But now Trump, along with his conservative-favored running mate, Governor Mike Pence, seem well-positioned to capture their vote. A CNN/ORC poll released earlier this week showed an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals prefer the Trump/Pence ticket, 73 percent of them favoring them over the Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine ticket.
But Trump’s ascent in the hearts of self-proclaimed evangelical voters was not without peril. Missteps, such as referring to 2 Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” caused some to question the veracity of his bible-study. It’s traditionally referred to as “Second” Corinthians.
And then, in 2015, he told Republican pollster Frank Lutz that he tries to correct himself, without asking for forgiveness, a core tenet of Christianity. "I am not sure I have," Trump said when asked whether he'd ever asked God for forgiveness. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there...I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."
Even still, Trump has garnered other major endorsements within the evangelical community. Trump was endorsed by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the late televangelist, and prominent Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress has appeared with Trump at several rallies.
Trump has taken to boosting his rhetoric -- he has declared "the evangelicals love me" -- with policy proposals. He has also promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a tax change enacted in 1954 that threatens religious institutions with the loss of their tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose a political candidate.
"We're going to get rid of that law," he said today. "We're going to get rid of it so fast. That was my idea.
"I figure it's the only way I'm getting to heaven," Trump joked, eliciting a collective chuckle from the crowd.
Trump will not be campaigning this weekend. He is scheduled to attend the funeral of conservative icon Phyllis Schafly in St Louis Saturday.