Trump Implores Christians to Boost Turnout, Courts Black Voters

(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump told evangelical voters they needed to boost their turnout at the polls as he sought in a pair of Saturday campaign events to shore up – and expand – his base.

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Trump spoke Saturday afternoon to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, a gathering of evangelical conservatives who have provided a bedrock of support for his three presidential bids. Later, the presumptive Republican presidential held a rally in North Philadelphia as part of his effort to make inroads with Black voters in the pivotal swing state of Pennsylvania.

Trump told his supporters that to defeat President Joe Biden, he needed them “to turn out in the largest numbers ever.”

“The evangelicals and Christians, they don’t vote as much as they should, I don’t know if you know that,” Trump said. “They go to church every Sunday, but they don’t vote.”

Trump went on to complain that gun-rights activists also didn’t vote in high enough numbers, and said ballot drop-off boxes should be placed inside of churches.

“You got to get out, just this time,” Trump continued. “I don’t care in four years - you don’t have to vote, OK? In four years, don’t vote, I don’t care.”

Trump received a hero’s welcome from the organization, founded by conservative activist Ralph Reed, despite a presidency during which he took little action on many of the group’s key priorities, from combating same sex marriage to ending the legalization of medical marijuana.

Still, Trump’s push to appoint Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade – along with his embrace of culture-war clashes – have cemented his appeal with evangelicals and his standing as the leader of the Republican Party.

Trump’s occasionally chiding effort to convert the enthusiasm at the Washington event into votes at the ballot box underscored the extent his hopes for a second term rely on motivating dedicated supporters. Polls show wide swaths of moderate swing voters disappointed with both candidates and considering third-party options or disinclined to vote.

“I think it’s sort of a protest. You’re so angry about what’s happening,” Trump said. “Do you know the power you’d have if you would vote?”

Even as Trump’s political operation focuses on turning out dedicated conservatives, he’s also seeking to appeal to Black and Latino voters - who have traditionally supported Democratic presidential candidates - but have felt the brunt of postpandemic inflation. Trump’s rally at Temple University in Philadelphia came just days after a visit to a Black church in Detroit.

“We will also work to lift up Black, Hispanic and other communities in Philadelphia and all across the United States,” Trump said.

Polls show Biden’s standing among minority voters has softened, possibly providing an opening to Trump and Republicans who hope to draw just enough support to win close battleground states.

Trump’s efforts have been complicated by his frequent descriptions of cities with large Black populations as crime-ridden and failing, as he did last week while discussing Milwaukee, which will host the Republican National Convention, with GOP lawmakers.

In Philadelphia, Trump lamented that “convenience stores are closing down left and right” and described statistics showing the city’s murder rate falling substantially as “fake news.” As of April, homicides in Philadelphia were down by more than a third compared to the prior year.

Trump also flashed his propensity for controversy at both stops, telling attendees that he had pitched Dana White, the head of Ultimate Fighting Championship, on an event that would pit the champion of his league against a competing “migrant league of fighters.”

Trump has regularly highlighted instances of undocumented migrants committing violent crime and warned immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country,” while critics - including Biden - have argued the rhetoric is racially coded.

“I think the migrant guy might win,” Trump said. “That’s how tough they are. He didn’t like that idea too much, but actually not the worst idea I’ve ever had.”

Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020, and his hopes of carrying the state in November’s rematch with Trump will hinge in part on his ability to turn out Black voters and hold on to working-class voters in the state. A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll in May found Trump leads Biden 48% to 46% in Pennsylvania.

The state has become a focal point for his reelection bid. According to an internal memo from the Trump allied super-PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., the group has and will continue to center its efforts and funding across Pennsylvania.

More broadly, Biden has also struggled to sell blue-collar workers, important in states including Michigan, on his economic agenda.

Trump has been ramping up his campaigning after becoming the first former president convicted of a felony, in his New York hush-money trial. He has also managed to use the conviction to boost his war chest, with the campaign raising $141 million in the month of May, surpassing the $85 million Biden raised that month.

Trump’s visit to Washington on Saturday is his second this month. Last week, he returned to Capitol Hill for the first time since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by supporters looking to block certification of the 2020 election, meeting with House and Senate Republicans.

(Updates throughout with remarks at Philadelphia rally.)

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