Politics

Trump cobbles together odd alliance of evangelical, LGBT voters

If political observers needed further proof that Donald Trump is a truly unconventional candidate, look no further than the disparate names who have thrown their support behind the Republican presidential nominee after a raucous week in Cleveland.

Several big-name holdout Republicans line up behind Trump after raucous convention in Cleveland

A man wears a hat that says, 'Make America Gay Again,' a parody of Donald Trump's campaign slogan. Trump courted gay GOP voters in his prime-time pitch to the nation Thursday at the Republican convention in Cleveland. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

If political observers needed further proof that Donald Trump is a truly unconventional candidate, look no further than the disparate names who have thrown their support behind the Republican presidential nominee after a raucous week in Cleveland.

Two of the top leaders in the evangelical Christian community — men who were only recently avowed skeptics of the Presbyterian tycoon — have dropped their opposition and are calling on their flock to vote for Trump after being charmed by the billionaire businessman, and his children, at the GOP convention.

But so, too, did some big-name gay voters who have been sitting on the sidelines.

Trump's new evangelical backers are Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins and James Dobson, the founder of the lobby group Focus on the Family. Both said Thursday that Trump is their guy because he stands between Hillary Clinton and the Oval Office.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Perkins, a prominent evangelical leader, has endorsed Donald Trump for president. (Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Many social conservatives to this point have avoided a Trump endorsement because they fear the issues that matter most to them, including abortion, overturning same-sex marriage and a closer alignment of church and state, would be relegated to the back burner under his leadership.

"Donald Trump has committed to upholding and protecting the first freedom [religious liberty] and therefore our ability as citizens to unite our nation once again under God," Perkins said. "I will be voting for Donald Trump in November, and I will urge my fellow Americans to do the same. Let us go forth from here and do that work."

Dobson, who stumped for Trump's main opponent, Ted Cruz, in the primaries, once branded Trump "a baby Christian who doesn't have a clue about how believers think, talk and act."

"Hillary scares me to death," Dobson wrote last month. "And, if Christians stay home because he isn't a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis."

Now, prayer seems to have led Dobson to Trump. "I am supporting Mr. Trump primarily because I believe he is the most capable candidate to lead the United States of America in this complicated hour."

Gays stump for Trump

But just as big names in evangelicalism were finally lining up behind Trump, convention-goers heard a full-throated endorsement of Trump from one of the richest gay men in the U.S.: Silicon Valley superstar Peter Thiel.

Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, took a prime speaking spot Thursday night just ahead of Trump and urged other members of the LGBT community to stand with the GOP candidate to restore American greatness.

Peter Thiel, a top Silicon Valley investor, and an openly gay man, endorsed Donald Trump for president during a convention speech in Cleveland Thursday. (Ben Margot/AP Photo)

"Every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican, but most of all I am proud to be an American," he said.

Another prominent gay Republican, Chris Barron, who has had leadership roles with two national LGBT GOP groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans and the now-defunct GOProud, lampooned Trump early in the primary process. He said the candidate was a sociopath who would "make Hitler blush" and called his supporters "morons." But he's changed his tune.

"I have no doubt that Donald Trump would be better for LGBT Americans," Barron said in an interview with CNN this week. "Hillary Clinton wants to continue a reckless foreign policy that has made the world less safe for LGBT Americans.

"She can find plenty of time to crucify Christians in the U.S. for perceived anti-gay bias, but when we've got ISIS throwing gay people off of buildings, when we have Muslim states that are prescribing the death penalty for people who are gay, I would think this would be something that a friend of the LGBT community would be able to speak out on, and Hillary Clinton finds it unable to do so." (She did after Orlando and the largest gay rights advocacy group has endorsed her.)

A volunteer with President Barack Obama's re-election campaign marches in San Francisco's gay pride parade ahead of the 2012 presidential election. 76 per cent of voters who identified as gay supported Obama in that election. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

While Thiel and Barron are a small minority in the larger LGBT community, a voting block that supported President Barack Obama in record numbers in 2012, Trump is trying to make inroads with a non-traditional constituency for Republicans by brandishing his anti-ISIS credentials.

Trump reached out to that pool of voters Thursday night in his acceptance speech and explicitly mentioned rights for the LGBTQ community, while mixing in his tough-on-terror message.

"In Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted LGBTQ community. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology," he said to thunderous applause from the crowd.

"I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you," he said, in one of his few off-script moments of the night.

'I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression,' Donald Trump said in Cleveland. 0:59

Despite Trump's embrace of gay Republican voters, the likes of Perkins and Dobson and their fellow conservative Christians still have a huge influence on the party and their plans run counter to Trump's prime-time pitch.

The Republican platform, ratified this week by the 112-member platform committee, includes returning to a traditional definition of marriage, an endorsement of heterosexual nuclear families as best for children, and a promise to implement a national bathroom bill that would bar transgender people from using the toilets of their choice.

"I don't pretend to agree with every plank in our party's platform, but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline," Thiel said in his speech. "This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?"

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.