Struggling to find his footing after a grueling Republican debate, Donald Trump has turned to religion.
The weakened GOP pack leader on Saturday night went to greater length than ever before to convince an evangelical audience in Iowa that he is a God-fearing and forgiveness-seeking Christian.
“I’m one of you,” Trump said at an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner. “Just remember that.”
“I brought my Bible,” he said, waving it during his speech. “See? I’m better than you thought.”
Trump has spent the days following Wednesday’s debate trying to reconnect with voters as political operatives call his front-runner status into question. And he needs to if he aims to maintain his thin lead in Iowa and among white, religious Republicans elsewhere.
Ben Carson, who speaks openly about his faith and has long been a favorite of the same socially conservative voters, has gained substantially on Trump in the polls, and some surveys show him beating out Trump among evangelicals in Iowa. And Carly Fiorina, who had a stand-out performance in Wednesday’s debate in part because of her steely shut-down of Trump and his criticism of her appearance is also on the rise. Religious conservatives particularly appreciate her anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric.
Trump, the thrice-married bombastic businessman who was once in favor of abortion rights, is not a natural fit with evangelical voters, even if he has been polling well with that group. And on Saturday night, he tacitly acknowledged his shortcomings in a 15-minute speech and question-and-answer session, in which Trump showed off his confirmation picture as proof of his long connection to church.
Nobody can believe it, nobody believes this,” he said of his confirmation picture. To laughs, he continued, “What went wrong? What went wrong?”
But his overtures to the evangelicals gathered at the dinner were more on target than those he made in July, when he spoke at the Family Leadership Summit. There, he initially said he didn’t think he had ever sought forgiveness from God, before going on to clarify, “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”
Those glib remarks didn’t damage him in the polls at the time. But on Saturday night, under increasing pressure from other rivals, Trump was less flip, and sought to strike an earnest note as he talked in generalities about his faith.
Trump promised to fight for religious liberty “like nobody can fight, because I’m a good fighter” and adopted the argument so many Republicans seeking evangelical support are using this campaign season, saying Christians are facing discrimination for their beliefs.
Strategic Support Department