The Corner

Politics & Policy

Ahead of Meeting, Evangelicals Sense Leverage Over Trump

Donald Trump will meet with an audience of nearly 1,000 Christian conservative activists in New York City on Tuesday, and the summit could hardly come at a more critical time.

The event has been on the books for over a month, but organizers believe it has suddenly taken on far greater importance in light of major developments inside the Trump campaign: his firing of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Monday, and the subsequent release of fundraising numbers that show him lagging badly behind Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s candidacy is in a tailspin, much of which owes to the campaign’s lack of infrastructure and organization. That’s where evangelical leaders come in: Through their vast network of affiliated churches, non-profits and advocacy organizations, they believe they are uniquely capable of mobilizing the conservative base in a general election. After opposing Trump in the primary, many Christian leaders now smell an opportunity to influence him and make his candidacy more palatable to their constituencies. They argue that Trump can’t win in November without the overwhelming support of religious voters nationwide — and that he won’t have it without demonstrating a real commitment to their causes.

Therefore, evangelical leaders will use Tuesday’s meeting to push Trump on their pet issues, sensing a rare moment of leverage over the nominee.

“The shake-up in the campaign has given much more meaning to Tuesday,” Ken Blackwell, one of the event’s organizers, tells NRO. “The campaign has no infrastructure, and he knows he’ll be more dependent on our grassroots involvement.”

Blackwell says of the evangelical leaders coming to New York from around the country: “These people can move numbers. And they know Trump needs them.”

The event, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will not merely be an extended Q and A session with Trump. Rather, attendees will sit through presentations and panel discussions — on turnout levels among religious voters, party platform, and recent polling trends on relevant issues — with the presumptive nominee dropping in at an undisclosed time for a roughly 90-minute or 2-hour program.

With more than 900 confirmed attendees, organizers aren’t allowing spontaneous interaction with Trump. They have spent the past month sifting through queries submitted by invitees, and have narrowed the batch to 20. The questions will be posed both by members of the audience who submitted them and by moderators on stage, of which there are expected to be two or three.

Ben Carson, a former Trump rival turned surrogate, is billed as the event’s host, but it remains unclear how extensive his role will be. The summit was planned by several prominent evangelical leaders — including Bill Dallas of United in Purpose and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council — and they are expected to handle the moderating of Trump’s Q and A session.

Dallas, Perkins, and a handful of other conservative activist leaders will hold a press conference at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square following the event.

Stay tuned to NRO for developments from the meeting…



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