Donald Trump is winning over the Religious Right. That’s weird for a number of reasons, and also highlights the fact that Christian leaders aren’t always as influential as they hope to be. So while yesterday’s news may not translate in the polls, Trump’s hysterical stumble is still worth a laugh.
It all started with Trump and a scheduled meeting with 100 black religious leaders. He has long promised supporters that he would “get the black vote” (despite polling at 3 to 10 percent among black voters) and had assumed that this meeting was a formality in gaining the endorsement of these black leaders, which would, in theory, bolster his claims.
Unsurprisingly, he was wrong:
Some of the pastors said over the weekend they never intended to endorse Trump and were only interested in talking with Republican front-runner. Some have canceled their plans to attend the meeting, which was announced just days after an African American man began chanting “Black lives matter” at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Ala., and was punched and kicked by white people in the audience. When asked about the incident the next day, Trump said: “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” Later that day, Trump retweeted a graphic that incorrectly showed that black people are responsible for most killings of white people. The incident and Trump’s response to it left some incredulous that a large group of black religious leaders would endorse him.
Talk about embarrassing. While most campaigns would admit hubris or at least miscommunication at that point, Trump basically accused the would-be attendees of being easily manipulated. During a Monday call-in on Morning Joe, he said:
I think what happened, probably some of the #BlackLivesMatter folks called them up and said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be meeting with Trump because he believes that all lives matter.’
What I think what happened is a lot of pressure was put on them. But it doesn’t matter, I’m going to have a meeting and have no idea what the meeting is. I’m going to a meeting, I have a great relationship with the black pastors.
You’d think that tone deaf ramble would be the centerpiece of Trump’s humiliating Monday, but it actually got worse. After bringing in barely half the attendees he had promised, he boomed later about how successful the event had been:
Mr. Trump brushed off the brouhaha over the meeting, and said he received “many, many endorsements” from the ministers. But the campaign declined to offer a list of either the ministers who attended or those who had endorsed him. After the meeting, a single religious leader, Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-area minister who helped organize the session, publicly endorsed Mr. Trump in the lobby of the building, overlooking Fifth Avenue.
Despite the public expressions of skepticism, Mr. Trump insisted that several of the ministers expressed admiration for him. After the meeting, the Trump campaign said it would connect a reporter to an attendee who could testify to Mr. Trump’s sincerity. At that point, Bruce LeVell of Atlanta got on the phone.
Other than the organizer of the event, Mr. LeVell was the only participant to provide a quote for a news release issued by Mr. Trump after the gathering.
It turns out, however, that Mr. LeVell is not a minister. He is a local Republican politician in Georgia. The campaign later apologized for the confusion, saying Mr. LeVell “is a prominent member” of his church.
On Monday night he was headed home to Atlanta on Mr. Trump’s private plane. Mr. Trump, he said, had invited him aboard.
“I got a free ticket,” Mr. LeVell explained.
Take a beat to digest all that. Trump claimed 100 black Christian leaders were going to endorse him. These leaders, many of whom had no idea they were on his list, adamantly insisted that they were not endorsing Trump. Trump accused them of being manipulated by protesters. Despite low attendance and next to no results, Trump ultimately declared the event a roaring success while using an organizer and observer to back his points.
I’d say this tomfoolery should be a turnoff for the Religious Right, but they’ve yet to waver in the face of even more outrageous behavior, so I’m guessing it won’t. That leaves us wondering: what exactly will Trump have to do for the Religious Right to drop their support?