US President Donald Trump tells evangelical voters that God is 'on our side'
Miami (AFP) - US President Donald Trump wooed crucial evangelical voters Friday with a speech in Florida where he told them God is "on our side" ahead of this year's elections.
Trump -- who despite three marriages, sexual assault allegations and a controversial business history has made himself a champion of right-wing Christians -- promised "another monumental victory for faith and family, God and country, flag and freedom."
"I really do believe we have God on our side," Trump told the crowd at the King Jesus International Ministry mega church in Miami.
This was Trump's first campaign rally of the year and sets him up for what will be a tough fight against his Democratic challenger in November.
Trump, who also faces a looming impeachment trial in the Senate, arrived on stage at the church to be blessed by several television pastors.
"Every demonic altar that has been raised against him will be torn down," prayed Paula White, frequently portrayed as Trump's spiritual advisor.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 77 percent of white evangelical Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing at the White House. That's in marked contrast to the steady majority of the country disapproving of Trump's performance.
And when it comes to impeachment over Trump's alleged abuse of office, those evangelicals are even more united. A crushing 98 percent majority oppose his removal.
"We have not really seen throughout Trump's presidency any discernible cracks," PRRI chief executive Robert Jones told AFP.
"Our polling shows that they have been largely unfazed by the impeachment proceedings," said Jones, the author of "The End of White Christian America."
- 'Profoundly immoral' -
Friday's event at the King Jesus International Ministry, also known as El Rey Jesus, aimed to lock down support for Trump in the key demographic.
In 2016, Trump won election thanks to victories in several crucial swing states, despite trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly three million ballots in the overall popular vote.
So any bleeding of evangelicals -- especially in battleground states like Florida -- could doom a repeat of the feat.
Team Trump was taken by surprise when evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a scathing editorial before Christmas in favor of the president's removal from office, calling his behavior "profoundly immoral."
But allies rallied to Trump's side.
Franklin Graham -- one of the sons of the celebrated late pastor Billy Graham, who popularized televangelism in the 1950s and founded Christianity Today -- lent his support.
Graham said his father "would be very disappointed" with the magazine's editorial.
Tony Perkins, president of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council, said the editorial represented an "isolated voice."
"I see the support just as strong now as it was in 2016, if not stronger," Perkins said in an interview.
- 'The nation' -
Evangelicalism is the primary form of Protestantism in America and the main religious group in the country, ahead of Catholics (21 percent) and traditional Protestants.
One of every four Americans identifies as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank.
Trump has gone after the group since the before his surprise 2016 election victory.
First, he chose Mike Pence -- who described himself as "Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order" -- as his running mate.
Then he promised to nominate Supreme Court justices and federal judges opposed to abortion rights and favorable to lenient gun laws.
But Jones says Trump's appeal also rests in his wider ability to reassure a group that feels increasingly vulnerable in a changing, increasingly mixed race America.
"This election is about the survival of our nation," Trump told the rally, talking at length about a supposed "war on religion" that he had managed to stop.