WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sought Friday to bolster his support among social conservatives by lashing out at his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and promising to protect and cherish “our Christian heritage.”
Speaking to the Value Voters Summit here, Trump hit on themes popular to evangelical Christians whose support he needs in the tightening White House race: the power of faith, school choice, religious liberty, Supreme Court appointments and national security.
“We all come from the same creator, and if we remember that simple fact, then our future is truly limitless. There is nothing we as Americans can’t do,” Trump told a packed hotel ballroom where he was received enthusiastically.
Trump criticized Clinton as “all talk and no action.” He won a standing ovation when he turned around her attack on him: “Hillary Clinton is unfit to be our president for many reasons. The biggest of which is her judgment. It is so bad.”
Trump said he’d create jobs with tax cuts, repeal a law that bans political activities by churches and groups with nonprofit tax status, and shift $20 billion in federal funds and $110 billion from states to private, parochial and public schools to create competition in education.
“But one of the most important — some people think it’s the most important thing — is the filling of the seats of the Supreme Court,” said Trump, who said he would use as a model the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat remains vacant.
Yet Trump did not mention two issues key to social conservatives — abortion and same-sex marriage — in his nearly 45-minute address.
For the past decade the Value Voters Summit, a conference of social conservatives and Christians, has been an important testing ground for Republican candidates for president — and until this year a tough one for a thrice-married former casino owner who likes to trash talk.
Last year, Trump finished a distant fifth in the summit’s straw poll for presidential candidates behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who finished first for the third year in a row.
Since then, Trump has cultivated key figures on the Christian right, and he has added a bigger lure to those voters: his running mate, Indiana Gov. Michael Pence.
A social conservative, Pence won the 2010 Value Voters Summit straw poll for president and is scheduled to address the gathering Saturday.
As he closed his speech, Trump announced he would go to St. Louis Saturday for the funeral of conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, who died this week at age 92 and who many say played a key role in stopping passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for women’s equality.
Trump said she had endorsed him when “it was not the thing to do.”
Some people attending the conference said they were sold on Trump as the best candidate to represent their views.
Roy Wagers, a retired accountant from Commerce, Michigan, said he was glad to hear Trump wanted to bring standards back to the nation. “I think he’s right on,” he said.
“I just felt real, really comfortable,” said Frances Pierce, a hairdresser from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Asked about Trump’s personal life, she said, “I know he’s been saved.”
Speaking as an individual, Preston Noell, president of Tradition, Family, Property, Inc., in McLean, Virginia, said he had supported former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and voted in the primaries for Cruz. But now, Noell said he supports Trump.
“I think we saw a much more mature Donald Trump today,” Noell said.