One year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, former President Donald J. Trump reminded a gathering of evangelical activists in the nation's capital how he had created a conservative supermajority of courts that ended nearly 50 years of constitutional protections for abortion.
Appearing at the Faith & Freedom Coalition gala in Washington on Saturday night, he cited his appointment of three of the six judges who voted to overturn the law as a cornerstone of his presidency. And he posited himself as a staunch crusader for Christian rights in a twisty speech that lasted nearly 90 minutes.
“No president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I did,” he said, adding, “I got it done, and nobody thought it was a possibility.”
It was the eighth appearance by Trump in front of the group, whose support he wants to consolidate within the crowded G.OP. competition for the 2024 nominations, even though he is the frontrunner in the field. He said Republican voters were skeptical of the claims of some of his rivals that they were stronger opponents of abortion, and noted that skepticism had surfaced on the campaign trail.
“A woman stood up and said, ‘This man ended Roe v. Wade. How can you fight it?'” Trump said.
Several thousand activists applauded Trump when he mentioned the decision, which he says is a leverage for conservatives in the ongoing battle over abortion rights. Several hundred others filled the overflowing room.
“You have power for the first time,” he said.
Nearly all of Trump's rivals in the crowded GOP square turned up during the group's three-day Road to Majority conference at the Washington Hilton. The lineup includes Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, Trump's main rival, and former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's running mate.
At a rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to commemorate the court's ruling, Pence urged anti-abortion activists to continue fighting to place further restrictions on the procedure at the state level.
“Save the babies, and we will save America,” he said, adding, “As the old book says, more is with us than with them.”
In his address to the meeting the day before, Mr Pence called on the entire 2024 Republican presidency to pledge support for a nationwide abortion ban at 15 weeks—a more extreme ban than Trump has supported so far.
David Porter, 64, a Republican from Newport News, Va., who wore a “Walking With Jesus” hat to the rally, praised Trump for his footprint in court.
“He's my boyfriend now,” she said.
Several times in his speeches Saturday night, Trump sought to align himself with religious communities and said they were under attack, just as he was.
“Together, we are warriors in a holy war to stop arsonists, atheists, globalists and Marxists,” he said.
Each charge, he added, was a “great badge of courage”.
“I was charged for you,” he said.
Mr Alliance Trump by Christian right is a study in political opportunism, one that has yielded tremendous dividends for both.
In 2016, evangelical voters helped propel Trump to back-to-back Republican primary wins in South Carolina and other key states, paving his way to the nomination and eventual presidency.
The influential electoral bloc demonstrated its willingness to look beyond the irreverence of the twice-divorced Trump, whose affairs have long been tabloid material and who came with a history of supporting abortion rights in the 1990s. Evangelical voters believe in Trump's populist narrative, as well as his promise to undertake a hard-line reset of the country's immigration and trade policies and to appoint “pro-life” judges.
The group racked up its returns during Trump's presidency when he cemented a supermajority on the Supreme Court.
Trump has been heralding a remake of the nation's highest court as he once again seeks support from evangelical voters, this time beset by a series of charges, including one in a hush-hush case involving a porn star.
But even as Trump has highlighted his role in the fight for the right to end abortion rights, he has repeatedly avoided questions about whether he would sign off on a federal abortion ban if Republicans managed to steer him through a divided Congress.
Mr Porter, an anti-abortion activist from Virginia, said Mr Trump's evasiveness was concerning.
“Either you stand up for what you believe in or you don't,” he said.
Mr DeSantis, speaking Friday at the evangelical conclave, has sought to stake out the right wing against Mr Trump on abortion policy. He criticized the former president for suggesting that the six-week abortion ban Mr. DeSantis in Florida “too hard”.
Susan Migliore, an anti-abortion activist from Falls Church, Va., who says she is religious but not evangelical, told a Lincoln Memorial rally she was grateful for Mr. Trump, but has yet to decide which candidate he will support. in 2024.