Leap of Faith

Trump Looks to Evangelicals for Financial Boost

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been holding meetings at Manhattan's Trump Tower to try and court members of the evangelical community.

Polls Show Clinton and Trump in Tight Race

Donald Trump is banking on small donations from evangelicals put off by Hillary Clinton to help fund his presidential campaign. 

Buoyed by his support from deeply religious voters during the Republican primary, the thrice-married Trump has been meeting privately in Manhattan's Trump Tower with top members of the evangelical community for months, peppering the conversations with fundraising appeals. 

"In the meetings, there were discussions of certain evangelical and diversity groups helping to fund raise for his campaign," said Bruce LeVell, an African American pastor who is the executive director of National Diversity Coalition for Trump.

Team Trump's fundraising goal will be about $400,000, or $20 donations from 20,000 evangelicals, according to a person directly familiar with the conversations. 

At one recent meeting with Trump, evangelical leaders noted how he often flashes a signature hand gesture, with a thumb out and a finger point to the sky, as he enters and exits rallies.  

"You see athletes do it all the time and it's their chance to point to the sky, to thank God for their success," said Pastor Mark Burns, CEO of a Christian television network based in South Carolina. "Trump does this all of the time, too. He's giving reverence to the man upstairs."

"Even with Mr. Trump's billions of dollars, he too still submits himself to God," said Burns, who has become a top Trump surrogate and a staple on the campaign trail, frequently introducing the candidate at rallies. "We should all chip in to help him out. You know, even a billionaire needs some cash flow."

After taking pride during the primary that his campaign was mostly self-financed, Trump announced in early May that he would begin fundraising in earnest. Last week, he reached a fundraising deal with the Republican National Committee that Trump said would be a way to help other Republicans get elected. But the challenge for Trump is how to convince small-dollar donors to give money to a billionaire, and that's where the evangelical grassroots community could help him.

"Preliminary discussions" are happening within evangelical circles to help Trump raise money—particularly in new age evangelical circles, where many of the leaders have become best-selling authors, top-selling Christian musicians and even minor-celebrities in their own right, Burns said.

And Trump is even beginning to make inroads with more traditional evangelical donors who backed religious conservative candidates who have now dropped out of the presidential race.

Foster Friess, the billionaire who supports Christian conservative causes, told Bloomberg Politics that he predicts conservatives will eventually rally behind Trump.

"My success came from harnessing people’s strengths and ignoring their weaknesses, and secondly, from assessing people not according to their pasts or where they are today, but  rather based on what they can become," Friess said. "I predict that traditional Republicans—along with the welders, plumbers, farmers, truck drivers and hospitality workers Donald Trump is bringing into the fold—will embrace a Trump-inspired, reignited America."

To bolster his case that Trump will be able to win over conservatives, Friess pointed to the candidate's recent list of potential Supreme Court nominations who are similar to the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as his recent comments reiterating that he would dismantle the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation.

"Hillary Clinton’s possible Supreme Court appointments will limit our freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and our ability to preserve our lives and the lives of our family, by confiscating our guns and accelerating our movement down the present perilous path," Friess said.

"Donald Trump’s commitment to appoint Scalia-like justices, leave minimum wage decisions to the states, neuter Dodd-Frank legislation, vet incoming refugees thoroughly, and eliminate sanctuary cities contrasts significantly with the policies of a Clinton presidency. The choice is stark," Friess said. "Ultimately, Donald Trump’s detractors will eagerly support the Republican nominee when they contemplate leaving a legacy of three or more Clinton-appointed Supreme Court justices."

Some Christian conservatives associated with United in Purpose, a nonprofit group that brings together organizations focused on Judeo-Christian principles, plan to meet with Trump in New York next month. Many of them supported Cruz or former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee for president.

Some conservatives are holding out on supporting the billionaire, said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America and one of the organizers of the Trump meeting in June.

“I don’t think we’re there yet," said Nance, who backed Cruz. "This has been long and bloody and hard and people are still figuring him out."

The meeting will take place at a venue that can hold 300 to 400 people, she said, and will target both big and small donors. 

The purpose won’t be to help Trump strategize fundraising, but “there will be those in the room with the ability to give large amounts,” Nance said. 

Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Family Leader and former Cruz campaign national co-chairman, said that Trump has yet to appeal to him for fundraising, and he's unsure if he'll try to help convince evangelicals to open their pocketbooks.

"Trump did not ask me for money or for fundraising help," Vander Plaats told Bloomberg after a meeting at Trump Tower Wednesday. "His ability to tap into the evangelical network remains to be seen. Many are still in the wait and see mode. His VP will be a crucial indicator."

Burns is convinced that Trump's ability to tap into evangelical cash will be less challenging than more traditional socially conservative donors suggests. "He's tapping into a new wave of evangelical leaders that quite honestly the Cruz evangelical donors have ignored for years," said Burns. "We're ready to be part of the political process." And while some in more traditional Christian circles have questioned Trump's authenticity to evangelicals, Burns said he witnesses "Mr. Trump's personal and professional connection to his faith at every rally where I introduce him."

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