The Slatest

Trump Privately Suggests Evangelical Leaders Break Law on Electioneering Because Democrats Will “Violently” Overturn Policies

Trump shuts his eyes and prays.
Prayin’. Jim Watson/Getty Images

President Trump used typically inflammatory language to warn evangelical leaders at a White House event Monday night of what GOP losses at the ballot box in November could mean for his administration and party, telling attendees that Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently.” Trump met with the 100 or so evangelical supporters during an open press event Monday, touching on the hot button conservative issues religious liberty and abortion, but the tone shifted when the cameras were off during a closed-door event that the New York Times got an audio recording of.

As a scare tactic, Trump mentioned antifa—the sometimes violent anti-fascist activists—by name intentionally conflating them with the entirety of the Democratic Party. “They will end everything immediately,” Trump said. “When you look at antifa,” he added, “and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people.” The president also instructed the religious leaders to use their pulpits to push members of the churches to vote Republican in November, which would be a violation of the Johnson Amendment prohibiting tax-exempt organizations, namely churches and charities, from campaigning, directly or indirectly, on behalf of a candidate.

Trump boasted to the gathered leaders that he got “rid of” the restriction on electioneering, something he had pledged to do during the campaign, which helped him win over the evangelical community. “They really have silenced you,” he said Monday. “But now you’re not silenced anymore.” Trump has not, in fact, abolished the Johnson Amendment; that would require congressional approval. In May 2017, Trump did sign an executive order directing the IRS to back off in its pursuit of churches engaging in political campaigns. “You have people that preach to almost 200 million people—150 to, close, depending on which Sunday we are talking about, and beyond Sunday, 100, 150 million people,” Trump said. “I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote.”

Trump’s most messianic tendencies shone through when he worried aloud about motivating Republicans to vote for his shambolic party without yours truly lifting the ticket. “I think we’re doing very well, and I think we’re popular, but there’s a real question as to whether people are going to vote if I’m not on the ballot,” he said. “And I’m not on the ballot.” At one point, in a pitch perfect Trump moment, the president, miraculously, appeared primed to engage in a modest moment of near-introspection and humility when recounting that Dallas evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress—who has said Jews are going to hell—said Trump “may not be the perfect human being, but he’s the greatest leader for Christianity.” “Hopefully, I’ve proven that to be a fact,” Trump said, before snatching self-congratulation from the jaws of self-deprecation to Christian applause in the room. “In terms of the second part, not the first part.”