Donald Trump will meet privately Tuesday morning with nearly a thousand social conservative leaders in New York City.
What started as a closed-door gathering of 400 social conservative leaders to test Trump’s values has grown to a daylong conference of 1,000, involving nearly all the traditional political influencers of the religious right. For some, it is an effort to get Trump to better understand their policy positions. For others, it is a late-breaking effort to try to get the GOP’s most reliable voter base on board with its most polarizing candidate in decades.
“We are trying to seek mutual understanding,” says event organizer Bill Dallas, president of United in Purpose, a 501(c)(4) committed to change American culture based on Judeo-Christian principles.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will moderate a 90-minute main session, where Trump will answer questions in front of the entire gathering. He’ll be introduced at the session by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who endorsed Trump in January. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will also participate. Falwell says he plans to introduce the crowd to the Trump he knows, not the Trump they may perceive him to be.
“He doesn’t expect you to agree with him on every issue or to endorse or condone his style of leadership,” Falwell says he plans to say. “If we all wait for the perfect candidate who has the demeanor of our pastors and agrees with us on every issue, including our personal theological beliefs, then we may all sit at home on election day for the rest of our lives. How many of you can honestly say that you even agree with your spouse on everything?”
Organizers have pre-selected questioners to ask him a total of between seven and 20 questions, depending on the time. The question topics were chosen in advance from themes that attendees submitted, and organizers negotiated the terms for the questions and who will ask them in advance with the Trump campaign, Dallas says.
“While we are talking to the media, we want to respect the privacy of the process,” he adds. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a member of the event’s steering committee member, adds that he hopes “to see how we could bridge the gap” between evangelicals and Trump. “We are not certain where he is, there are a lot of unknowns,” Perkins says. “There is reason for optimism and possibly hope.”