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My Meeting With Donald Trump: Trump Fumbles, But Closes Strongly (Part 3 of 4)

Kelly Shackelford

Last week I participated in a series of meetings between cultural conservative leaders, activists and thinkers and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and this is the third installment of my report on the meetings.

I think it is fair to say that the meetings at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, that included about 1,000 individuals, represented most of the conservative movement’s cultural conservative organizations, interests and issues.

In a large town hall-style meeting Donald Trump took questions that had been submitted in advance of the meeting. Of course with 1,000 people in the room it was obvious not every issue was going to be addressed or every question answered, but by my count Trump addressed only nine questions.

Yesterday, in my column “What Trump Got Right On The Conservative Agenda” I covered the first part of the town hall meeting and the first five questions he addressed, all of which he answered from a viewpoint favorable to conservatives.

The next question in the big town hall-style event went to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who asked:

What policies, if any, of the Obama administration will you reverse? And what steps will you take to restore our military and the rights of our men and women in uniform to practice their religious freedom?

This was perhaps the one question where Trump’s rambling style failed him, because it should have been a simple answer in the same vein as the one he delivered about Christmas and society becoming “so politically correct that we can’t function as a country anymore.”

Instead, Trump wandered all over the map.

You know when you talk about the most important jobs of a president, you always have to go with defense, defense, right?

I saw the other day — you probably saw on a couple of the networks — where they were talking about our fighter planes where they’re old, they’re 18 to 20 years old. We’re using these planes to fight.

And our military is so badly depleted. And we fight all over the place. We fight in little pockets here, here. We don’t win anything. We don’t fight to win.

You thought we won in Iraq? We didn’t win in Iraq. We handed Iraq to Iran. We have given Iraq — with among the largest oil reserves in the world — we have given it to Iran through sheer stupidity.

This could be the greatest Trojan horse. This [the Syrian refugee resettlement program] could be the real-deal Trojan horse, OK fellas? We have no idea who these people are.

We have to have the greatest fighting force in the world, whatever that may be. And we have to have the generals make these decisions, and the leaders — the military leaders — make these decisions without influencing, without people calling, saying, “Do this or do that.”

Trump wasn’t wrong about our aging military aircraft or the strategic implications of Iran’s role in Iraq, but I certainly couldn’t score this one for Donald Trump, because, like many in the room, I was left wondering whether Trump even understood the question, let alone which of the military social experiments and morale killing policies of President Obama’s he planned to repeal.

The next question went to my friend Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute law firm, who was seated right next to me. Kelly asked:

This is a two-part question on religious liberty. The first is what you mentioned, that the next president is going to appoint at least three Supreme Court justices, probably hundreds of federal judges — these are life appointments. What process or what people are you going to rely on so you can assure people here to know you’re gonna get really good justices? And secondly, probably the key issue right now in religious liberty is the attempt to use gay rights to trump religious freedom. So a baker, like the couple that’s a Christian baker in Oregon, because they couldn’t do a gay wedding cake, they’ve been prosecuted by the state, they’re bankrupt, they’ve been fined $135,000 and told by the judge that they need to be, quote, rehabilitated. Have you thought through yet, or do you know yet, where you’re going to stand? I know you may need time on some of these issues. But I know this is something that would be very important to the people in this room. 

Donald Trump’s answer was this:

So, on the judges: The Federalist Society is the gold standard on judges, are you happy with that? I think, right? Also Heritage [Foundation], Jim is fantastic. Jim DeMint and the Heritage [Foundation] is — I think they’re doing a great job. And they’ve done it also. Plus, we’re going to probably put four or five additional [judges on the list] as I’ve said before. And we’re going do that. We’re going to do that very quickly. And frankly, the decision that you’re looking at is ultimately going to be a court decision. And the people that go on the court over the next period of time are going to have a lot to do with that decision. Because right now, that decision does not look — and I know where you stand on it — and that decision is not looking very good for you. And by the way, if you are pro-life, it’s not going to be very good for pro-life right now. And if Hillary gets in, honestly, Mike, if she picks two more judges — not three, four or five — pro-life is a whole different story.

Your question is a whole different story. Because ultimately, the court is going to decide that question. They’re going to decide that answer. And I will say this and I’ve said before: I’m putting pro-life judges on. … The justices that I’ve put on, and you can look at their names and we have them posted, but the justices, I have gotten tremendous, rave views from the people that we’ve picked. Eleven, we’ve picked 11 so far. And we’ll pick a few more and they’ll be very similar. I’ve gotten tremendous reviews. The alternative is the opposite. There won’t be any pro-life judges put on there. They will be all pro-choice. They will be all, 100 percent. 

Trump correctly identified the problem as one of judges making law and creating special rights for new classes of people that are then used to negate the rights enumerated in the Constitution, and that is something that judges who meet the standards of the Federalist Society and Heritage would be very very unlikely to do.

On the other hand, in my opinion Trump didn’t really answer the second part of Kelly Shackelford’s question and Kelly later told Charisma News, "For me, there are two ultimate issues in this election: religious freedom and the federal courts. I was grateful that the No. 1 topic of today's conversation was religious liberty, giving us a good starting point to understand where Mr. Trump stands on the issue.”

"I appreciated how, very early in the meeting, Mr. Trump brought up First Liberty's client, Coach Joe Kennedy, and expressed his concern that a high school football coach would be fired for praying after a game. Mr. Trump said attacks on faith like this need to stop, and I agree.”

The many people in the room who were hoping that Trump would say that, as President, he would lead an effort to stop the use of homosexual “rights” as a means of limiting religious liberty, were no doubt disappointed that Trump skipped over the second part of Kelly Shackelford’s question, but as Kelly later put it, "Although there is still more to learn about where Mr. Trump stands on some of the top religious freedom cases in America, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and military chaplains, I think today was a good start and I look forward to continuing the conversation.”

I’d score Trump as hitting a home run on judges (again), but the best that could be said was that he came across as uniformed on the specifics of some of the broader cultural issues, such as the effects of judge created same-sex “marriage” and special rights for homosexuals on religious liberty.

At this point Mike Huckabee raised the Second Amendment as an issue related to Kelly Shackelford’s question, and as another constitutional right that would be “gone” if Hillary Clinton were elected, and Donald Trump offered this commentary in response to Huckabee’s remarks:

I’m so glad you mentioned the Second Amendment. Because the Second Amendment, like Christianity, the Second Amendment is under siege. And you have right now a tied court. And frankly, if one judge gets on, that’s the end of the Second Amendment certainly as you know it. And I say, and I say it in all seriousness: Hillary Clinton is going to abolish the Second Amendment if she becomes president. She will abolish, so you’re not going to have protection. … You’re not going to have protection. You’re not going to be able to protect yourself. Some of the ideas they have are unbelievable and not what our Founders wanted or had in mind. So the Second Amendment is totally under siege and we’re going to protect the Second Amendment.

You know the NRA endorsed me, it was the earliest endorsement that they’ve ever given. I have great respect for the NRA. And I think that’s an important thing. But when we get down to the Supreme Court, you’re talking about religious liberty, freedom. You’re talking about all of the things that you asked about. And your question’s great. But you know ultimately, it’s the courts that are going to decide. And if it’s my judges, you know how they’re going to decide. And if it’s her judges, you also know how they’re going to decide. (emphasis mine) 

Again, another home run score for Trump on judges.

Donald Trump concluded his remarks with this commentary which was unexpected and seemed to encapsulate the relationship he was trying to build with the audience in the room:

I know, as an example, the young people aren’t going [to church] as much.

But we have to bring that back. We have to bring those values back. We have to bring that spirit back. And in a way, it’s been taken way from you by the federal government and by these horrendous things that have been allowed in the past.

But just remember this: You are the most powerful group in this country. But you have to realize that. You have to band together. You have to band together. If you don’t band together, you’re really not powerful. You have a powerful church. I see it. I see some of these incredible pastors and ministers and people that speak so brilliantly. And I see it. But they’re great within their audience but then outside they don’t have it.

You have to band together as a group. And if you do that, you will bring it back like nothing has ever been brought back.

When was the last time you heard a Republican candidate for President, say “we have to bring young people back to church”? Is that something Mitt Romney or John McCain would have said? Not on your life!

In reviewing my notes and the transcript of the town hall meeting I’d rate Donald Trump’s answers to most of the questions as favorable to the conservative agenda, and on judges and religion in the public square he hit several home runs.

While Trump didn’t really answer the second part of Kelly Shackelford’s question on religious liberty, during the town hall-style meeting I’d say Donald Trump’s only fumble, and it was a substantial one, was on Tony Perkins’ question about religious liberty and social experimenting in the military.

Whether Trump didn’t understand the question, hadn’t been briefed on an issue that doesn’t typically make the TV news or hasn’t thought about the issue at all (highly likely in my opinion) we know Hillary Clinton is against us on this, so our job is to communicate with Trump and to make sure that he understands this is the military version of his comment on religion in the public square; “We’re becoming so politically correct that we can’t function as a country [or a military] anymore.”

Clearly, it does not come naturally to Donald Trump to speak the language of cultural conservatives, politically active Christians and the Bible.

However, it is equally clear that Donald Trump has absorbed many of the concerns and anxieties that today’s cultural conservatives have about the far-Left inspired use of government to limit the practice of religion in the public square and to stifle religious commentary and faith testimony on cultural and social issues.

Trump gets that to make America great again we have to bring back what he calls values and spirit. And, unlike Hillary Clinton, as imperfect a vessel as Donald Trump may be, in matters of values and spirt he is on our side.

*To supplement my notes I’ve relied on news reports and articles by other participants to ensure I report the speaker’s words as accurately as possible.

Next - My Meeting With Donald Trump: My Question For Mr. Trump And Next Steps (Part 4 of 4)

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Donald Trump What He Got Right but Fumbles

I agree with you Mr. Viguerie: Donald Trump doesn't get it right about Gay Rights circumventing the rights of Christians and Religious Liberty. There is no such thing as Gay Marriage, as it is not only an anomaly, but it is an abomination in the eyes of God, with Sodom and Gomorrah as a good example. We can provide people with what they need as far as food, clothing, housing, etc., but there are some things which go beyond that and one of them is Gay Marriage, and pushing legislation for such, as well as advocating for Transgender Laws, which totally ignore the rights of normal individuals not suffering from Gender Identity Disorder, is just going too far. Somehow Donald has lost his way in life, and has picked up the New Age way of thinking in this manner. In fact, he's only recently started going to Church, as far as I know, and is taking Baby Steps to the Altar, so to speak.
He needs prayers and encouragement to do the right thing by God First, and man Second. Just because you hurt some people's feelings, who happen to be living on the edge, doesn't mean you have to support everything they do and say. God gave us Ten Commandments to keep, and Donald isn't aware of what that entails just yet.