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While Donald Trump is the target of an impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, evangelical Christians who gathered across town were unfazed by his request of Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.
On Friday, a succession of speakers delivered paeans to Trump at the annual Values Voter Summit, which the president is set to headline on Saturday. Trump’s allies have drawn a warm embrace from a core Republican constituency that feels under siege from modern social changes such as same-sex marriage and mass immigration.
To these voters, Trump is a protector. Some of them are uncomfortable with his soliciting political help from Ukraine, but they’re willing to overlook it. The attacks on him are perceived as an indictment of their values, and they identify with him for lashing out at progressives.
“I see it as harassment, quite frankly,” Gail Sonatore of Middletown, New Jersey, said of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. “I don’t think he’s done anything. I understand his tone — nobody likes that tone. But when you’re dealing with Marxists, what are you supposed to do? Just take it?”
She added: “Republicans have for a long time been called racist, fascist, sexist and greedy. And I think that’s why they support Donald Trump.”
Like many others at the conference, Sonatore said she has no problem with Trump asking Ukraine’s president to look into Biden. She said the former vice president should be investigated in the U.S., but was certain any inquiry would be thwarted because “the deep state is deep, and it is corrupt,” echoing a conspiracy theory common among Trump supporters that unelected career government employees are abusing their power to subvert the will of voters.
The staunch Trump allies explain why his job approval rating is unmoved despite Ukraine, holding steady around 40% in major national surveys. And his base hasn’t turned against him: In a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 67% of white evangelicals said they approve of him. Among Republicans, 91% said they approve.
Sonatore said evangelicals’ concerns about the Supreme Court motivated many Trump skeptics to back him. They’re thrilled that he appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, two justices who they believe share their objectives such as reversing the Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed abortion rights. These goals are within reach, and there may be more retirements from the court.
“There’s a good possibility that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned,” she said.
The sky-high Republican approval is unlikely to be enough to get Trump re-elected if there’s an exodus of independent voters from his campaign in 2020.
A majority of Americans now supports the impeachment inquiry, according to many surveys, driven by a jump among Democrats and independents who already disapproved of the president but were skeptical about whether Congress should act to remove him. Now, many of these voters want lawmakers to take action. That notable shift has intensified the bunker mentality among many people at the Values Voter event.
Ray Teutsch, a retiree from Hempstead, Texas, said the impeachment inquiry has redoubled his support for Trump and caused him to donate more money to help re-elect him.
“Where I’m from, President Trump’s treasury is going up,” he said, calling Trump’s support “rock solid” in his community.
On Thursday evening, Trump spoke for 100 minutes at a rally in Minnesota — a state he lost by just 1.5 points in 2016 — and unleashed a torrent of attacks on his critics, drawing cheers and applause when he called the impeachment inquiry “a scam by the Democrats” who he said will lose to him again in the 2020 election.
Bill Chimiak of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, said it was “problematic” for Trump to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, but that it doesn’t affect his support for the president because “I didn’t hire an angel — I hired someone that would represent the United States.”
He scoffed when asked about the impeachment inquiry, suggesting that the U.S. government should put former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in prison instead.
“Go after the easy criminals first,” he said. “Go after them, and then let’s talk about that.”
The lineup of speakers at the gathering, hosted by Family Research Council Action, includes many of the president’s defenders who are popular on the right — including Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, author Dana Loesch and activist Gary Bauer.
On Friday, Bauer inveighed against “leftist social justice warriors,” mentioning activist and former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice. Bauer drew applause from the crowd as he lavished praise on Trump for “taking on those leftist barbarians.”
Some evangelical leaders highlighted comments by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at an LGBTQ forum hosted by CNN on Thursday, when he said that churches opposed to same-sex marriage should lose tax-exempt status.
“He’s going after your guns. Now he’s going after your God,” said Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council Action, who told the crowd that Trump’s priorities, by contrast, “are your priorities.”
Valerie Marken of Monument, Colorado, said the impeachment inquiry was “crazy” and that her support for Trump wouldn’t be affected by his request to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
“I think it’s fair game,” she said. “He’s the president.”
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