Evangelicals have chided President Trump’s strategy in Syria, but he is still basking in their support, rallying them with screeds against the “crazy” left and declaring that Christian conservatives are also being attacked as Democrats pursue impeachment.
“They’re coming after me because I’m fighting for you,” the president told the Values Voter Summit over the weekend.
Mr. Trump received a hero’s welcome from the room of Christian conservatives who backed him in 2016 and will be pivotal to his 2020 fortunes, as he faces some of the biggest challenges of his presidency.
The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops ahead of Turkey’s attack on American-allied Kurds sparked pushback from evangelicals, who fear for Christians and religious minorities in the region.
But Mr. Trump refused to back down Saturday. He said he pledged to bring troops home and that the media will criticize him no matter what he does.
Hoping to keep evangelicals — who backed him by a 4-1 margin over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — in his corner, the president cast himself as a bulwark against a mainstream intent on liberal change.
“You are the warriors on the frontiers defending American freedom. We meet tonight at a crucial moment in our nation’s history,” he told the Values Voter Summit in Washington, which was hosted by the legislative arm of the Family Research Council. “Our shared values are under assault like never before. Extreme left-wing radicals, both inside and outside government, are determined to shred our Constitution and eradicate the beliefs we all cherish.”
Mr. Trump said he won’t let the IRS infringe on houses of worship or allow Congress to expand abortion rights. He touted his Israel policy and pointed to the huge slate of conservative judges he has put on the bench, likely reshaping the courts for decades to come.
There is a straight line, Mr. Trump said, between Democrats’ attacks on Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and what he is facing now. He said Democrats are using his interactions with Ukraine to undo the 2016 election and “stop our movement and impose their agenda by any means necessary.”
“I think she hates our country,” Mr. Trump said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “If she didn’t hate our country, she wouldn’t be doing this to our country. It’s a fraud.”
Democrats say Mr. Trump left them no choice but to gather documents and testimony after Mr. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his assistance in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a political rival, and his son Hunter Biden, who had business ties in Ukraine. The president said his call with Mr. Zelensky was “perfect” and that he can’t believe his rivals are pursuing impeachment.
“I never thought I’d see or hear that word with regard to me. It’s an ugly word,” Mr. Trump said. “It means horrible, horrible crimes and things. I can’t even believe it.”
The House’s impeachment inquiry hasn’t eroded Mr. Trump’s support among evangelicals because “they see that as political theater,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told The Washington Times ahead of Mr. Trump’s speech.
What is happening in Syria, however, “has shaken some people,” he said.
Televangelist Pat Robertson has said Mr. Trump risks losing the “mandate of heaven” by withdrawing U.S. troops in the region. Faithful conservatives point to the contributions of Kurds who are being pummeled by the Turkish military.
“The Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting,” the Rev. Franklin Graham tweeted last week. “They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider?”
Mr. Trump isn’t budging. He wants countries in Syria’s “neighborhood” to settle their long-running disputes and secure the area, and he would like European nations to take back Islamic State fighters who left to join the now-destroyed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
Mr. Trump told the Values Voter Summit that Americans shouldn’t be “guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home.”
“We cannot stay there forever. We have to bring our great heroes, our great soldiers, home. It is time. It is time,” he said to applause.
Mr. Perkins said Mr. Trump is a man of his word on ending foreign entanglements, but Christian conservatives are still worried about religious minorities in the region. He said northern Syrian had been shaping into a positive model for the rest of the Middle East.
“This tree of liberty that’s beginning to bud,” he said, “could become nothing more than a stump.”