WASHINGTON, DC — On Friday, some of the biggest names in Donald Trump’s conservative celebrity posse traveled to the Omni Shoreham Hotel in northwest DC to join the Republican presidential nominee to talk god, Trump, and culture wars.
For the 2016 Values Voter Summit (the annual social-conservative conference organized by Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council), Trump took the stage in the main hall mid-afternoon to deliver a speech that leaned heavily on playing upon the Christian right’s longstanding persecution complex.
“How can it be that our media treats people of faith so poorly?” Trump asked rhetorically, before reminding the audience that many politicians have straight-up “abandoned” them for more progressive, secular, politically correct values.
“In a Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be cherished and protected like you’ve never seen before,” he said, reciting an easy applause line. “There is no more charitable group in this country than Christians.”
The occasion was special and the target audience uniquely pious—but all they got from The Donald on a humid Friday afternoon was a rehash of a typical Trump stump speech, with an extra biblical trimming or two tossed in.
During his Values Voter remarks, Trump repeated his calls to repeal the Johnson amendment, which bars tax-exempt religious groups from endorsing political candidates (“I figure that’s the only way I’m getting to heaven”—a joke he has crowd-tested on the trail before) and Obamacare. He again touted his school-choice policy prescriptions, and continued denouncing Democratic politicians for not taking care of black constituents in “the inner cities.” He hated on all those trade deals he loves to hate on (“We’re gonna terminate NAFTA!”). He of course once again said a couple of mean things about Mexico plundering our jobs. He took his usual digs at Common Core, bashed the Iran nuke deal, talked about the Supreme Court, revved up the crowd by insulting Hillary Clinton’s “stupid” foreign-policy positions and her email scandal, and riffed on ISIS’s “genocide of Christians” in the Middle East.
“[Our enemies] think we’re stupid—they won’t be thinking it for long,” Trump assured everyone. “Hillary Clinton is UNFIT to be our president! … It’s time to restore honesty and integrity to our government, we have to do it.”
This was only Team Trump’s latest exercise in (rather successfully) wooing Christian and evangelical leaders and voters into his camp. Given Trump’s boorish behavior, naughty language, womanizing, and past deep associations with liberal Hollywood and Democratic Party figures, it seemed only natural that evangelicals would grow to loathe Trump. Instead, over the course of the primary, the opposite happened.
Along with Republican politicians like Reince Priebus, Michele Bachmann, and Louie Gohmert, organizers stacked the opening-day program with some of the more recognizable figures working out of conservative Hollywood. And they were all there to gush about Trump and faith in equal measure.
Kirk Cameron, the Growing Pains star and Trump endorser who is nowadays better known for his work as a hardcore evangelical activist, railed against “out-of-control and godless government” for half an hour. (Cameron was not available for comment.) Not one, but two, members of the Duck Dynasty clan (including Phil Robertson, of gay-bashing and hippie-punching fame) roamed the halls. And David and Jason Benham, founders of The Benham Companies and stars of a home-improvement reality show that was cancelled shortly after their socially conservative views (gay marriage, abortion, the works) were reported on, brought the chiseled, very American, very white charm.
But the biggest get for Values Voters and the Trump campaign this week was the Oscar-winning, 77-year-old actor Jon Voight, who introduced Trump on the summit stage. (Voight has frequent discussions with senior members of the Trump campaign and has pledged to do whatever he can to support the GOP nominee and his campaign before election day, The Daily Beast reported in June.)
“We are all witness to Hillary Clinton’s lies and corruption,” Voight said in his brief remarks. “My heart aches watching Donald Trump…pouring his heart out…How can anyone doubt his sincerity?”
“If you’re not for Trump, then you’re not for me,” Voight previously told The Daily Beast.
“He will lift the dark cloud hanging over us right now,” Voight said of Trump on-stage, telling the crowd that, God willing, The Donald will be the next leader of the free world.
For the Midnight Cowboy star and real-estate mogul, the affection appears to be mutual.
“Such a great actor [and] person,” Trump said. “I love his movies.”