While Donald Trump won the Republican primary, it's worth remembering that he, as of late May, did so without cracking 50% of the voters in the Republican primary. (As a point of comparison, Hillary Clinton has snagged 55.5% of the popular vote in the Democratic primary.) While the news media is chattering about Trump's supposed pivot to the general, the truth of the matter is he has to do more work convincing base voters to come out and vote for him before he can even start trying to convince ordinary voters he's not so bad.
Evangelical voters in particular will need some massaging. Most of them will, however reluctantly, get in line easily enough, because right wing politics and not Jesus have always been their true god. But there are some recalcitrant corners of the Christian right, like Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson, that understandably worry that backing a man with a habit of collecting trophy wives and who can't even be bothered to really pretend to crack a Bible might, in the long run, undermine their claims of moral authority.
This week, the Trump campaign showed signs that they are going to start hustling in earnest for Christian right voters, but of course, they are doing it in the most Trumpian fashion possible: Broing down with extremist weirdoes.
Last week, it was quietly revealed that Trump has hired a new "liaison for Christian policy," a televangelist named Frank Amedia. Amedia is a relatively unknown character, so Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch started digging. Unsurprisingly, Amedia turns out to be exactly the sort of hyper-sleazy master manipulator that the mind automatically conjures up when you think of the word "televangelist".
In on telling incident, Amedia, while on a show hosted by his fellow televangelist Guillermo Maldonado, bragged about how he supposedly can control tsunamis. He starts the story by recall in his wife waking him to alert him to the fact that his daughter was on a Hawaiian island that had a tsunami headed for it, then:
I stood at the edge of my bed and I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, I declare that tsunami to stop now.’ And I specifically said, ‘I declare those waters to recede,’ and I said, ‘Father, that is my child, I am your child, I’m coming to you now and asking you to preserve her.’ Apostle, it was seen by 400 people on a cliff. It was on YouTube, it was actually on the news that that tsunami stopped 200 feet off of shore. Even after having sucked the waters in, it churned and it went on and did devastation in the next island.
Stories of "miracles" where God spared the supposedly worthy but rained down destruction and death on others are a common trope in Christian right circles. (See this popular urban legend of angels who prevent a Christian woman from getting rape, setting the rapists to go rape some other unlucky woman.) It's a trope that has an ugly, hateful edge to it, as much about conveying the idea that other people are worthy of death as it is to persuade the believers their faith will save them.
But beyond that, think of the narcissism it takes to imagine one can control tsunamis. No wonder Trump loves this guy.
Blue dug up a wonderland of crazy stories about Amedia, who practices "faith healing" over the phone on his call-in show and, in 2001 got immunity for prosecution for admitting in court that he had attempted to bribe a prosecutor in a fraud case.
It's unclear how much work Amedia is currently doing for the Trump campaign, but the one meeting that Time reports he is involved in should be raising red flags. Amedia was the liaison between Trump and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical organization that claims a membership of 40,000 churches. Trump is clearly angling to use evangelicals as a way to make inroads with Hispanic voters, even though his primary victory was built largely on demonizing immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.
NHCLC's head, Samuel Rodriguez Jr., has previously criticized Trump's plan to deport over 10 million undocumented immigrants, saying Trump would need "a Gestapo sort of apparatus" to accomplish this goal.
But after the Amedia-arranged meeting the NHCLC representative Mario Bramnick, Bramnick emerged offering an olive branch, saying, "Donald Trump showed a tremendous understanding and concern for the undocumented immigrants."
The ease with which Trump won these folks over suggests Trump understands, far better than most would assume, what levers to pull with evangelical leaders. Christian conservatives, especially leaders, crave validation above all other things.
Christian conservatives tend to feel left out of the mainstream of American culture, even though they feel entitled to control it. That sense of thwarted entitlement makes them easy marks. A couple meetings at the Trump Tower, reassurances that the candidate believes they are the true Americans above all others, a "Make America Great Again" baseball cap: By providing them the validation they crave, you can win most of these folks over with a disturbing ease. Bramnick so quickly cozying up to a man who just spent months appealing to white racism against Hispanics is disturbing evidence of this.
Trump's evangelical outreach operation appears to be expanding rapidly and a huge component of it is using the churches to create the appearance of engagement with non-white voters. As Bloomberg Politics reports, Trump has also been taking meetings at Trump Tower with African-American evangelical leaders, trying to convince them that his commitment to social conservatism should quell any doubts about, say, his tendency to retweet white supremacists.
Rest assured, there's very little chance that these moves will do much to win votes from people of color to Trump. The presence of a few black and Hispanic pastors around the campaign won't fool voters who were already not voting for Republicans and sure as hell won't be convinced to come around for someone like Trump.
That said, these moves could have an impact on their intended audience, which is those white evangelicals that are still struggling to justify voting for an unrepentant sinner like Trump. A few token endorsements from pastors of color is about signaling to those voters a genuine commitment to social conservatism beyond just his usual race-baiting stuff. Or, to put it more bluntly, he's anti-gay and anti-choice enough to win over people who might be otherwise reluctant to back a racist. For voters who really don't want to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, it might be enough to win them over.