Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is making his pitch to Catholics, many of whom could serve as important swing voters in states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. The latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed a stark divide among white Catholics: 44 percent said they support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton while another 44 percent said they support Trump.
In a new interview with the global Catholic network EWTN scheduled to air Thursday at 8 p.m., Trump made his case, telling the global Catholic network what he prays for, his favorite saint and what sparked his evolution on abortion. He also blamed Clinton for leaked e-mails from her campaign that were widely circulated that appeared to show a staffer joking about Catholics and evangelicals.
One of the key issues some Catholics will likely consider while voting is the importance of the Supreme Court. Trump has promised to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that gave women a right to an abortion. Trump favored abortion rights for decades before beginning to describe himself as pro-life in 2011.
In his interview with Raymond Arroyo, lead anchor and managing editor of EWTN News, Trump spoke of a couple he knew, describing one as pro-life and one as pro-choice. When the mother was pregnant, he said, they argued over whether to have abortion, and they ended up having the baby.
“And the baby is such a magnificent person, who I know, a magnificent person,” Trump said, declining to go into more specifics. “And, the person that was actually pro-choice is now pro-life because of it and it had a big effect on me.”
Trump noted Ronald Reagan’s shift on the issue before he became president. “Many people have made the personal change,” Trump said. “I mean, some make the personal change the other way, also.”
During the interview, Arroyo also asked Trump about what he prays for.
“I don’t want to talk to you about that,” Trump replied. “I mean, I pray. It’s very personal to me. I’m a person of belief, but I certainly, you know, I pray for my family. I pray for our country but I don’t want to talk to you about that. I think that’s very personal.”
The recent batch of documents published by WikiLeaks appeared to show Hillary Clinton’s campaign communications director joking with a colleague about Catholics and evangelicals in emails sent to John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s campaign. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, gaining access to an entire database of opposition research.
Podesta appeared to write in emails that the campaign had created Catholic groups to organize on issues like contraception. Trump questioned how any Catholics or evangelicals could vote for her after the emails were leaked.
“It’s her. It’s her,” Trump said. “She should apologize. I think she has to do more than apologize. You know, that’s her thinking. That’s her staff.”
Trump said he feels religious liberty is in “tremendous trouble.” He said he spoke with religious leaders and asked them when they were going to endorse him. They told him they couldn’t because they would risk losing their tax-exempt status.
“And I said, ‘Why is that?’ And they told me about the Johnson Amendment 1954,” Trump said. He was referring to a change in the U.S. tax code in 1954 championed by President Lyndon B. Johnson who introduced an amendment prohibiting certain tax-exempt organizations from endorsing and opposing political candidates.
“And, I thought about it for a month. And we had a meeting again. Fifty-six different pastors, ministers, etc., and I said ‘We’re going to get rid of the Johnson Amendment because our pastors and ministers should have the right to go out and speak their minds.’ ”
The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code bars churches and many other non-profit organizations from endorsing specific candidates.
Getting rid of the Johnson Amendment would be “one of the most important things that I’ll be doing for the evangelicals and for religion,” Trump said.
Trump said Clinton’s call to open the U.S. to Syrian refugees is “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.”
“I would say to you it’s crazy to be doing this and I will stop it immediately,” Trump said. “We will not have radical Islamic terrorists coming into our country and some of them will be radical Islamic terrorists.”
Trump dismissed sexual assault accusations that women have made against him when asked about the lewd comments he made on Access Hollywood.
“The microphones, I mean to be honest should, you know, should never have been on, but that was locker room talk,” Trump said, adding that he has made his apologies.
Asked who his favorite saint is, Trump named Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
On his comments on whether the election is “rigged,” Trump deflected, saying President Obama has made similar comments before. And when Arroyo asked whether Trump was saying “bigly” or “big league” on Oct. 19 during the final presidential debate, Trump confirmed: he said “big league.”
This piece has been updated to clarify what Trump has promised on Supreme Court justices.