A year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, former President Donald J. Trump reminded a rally of evangelical activists in the nation’s capital how he shaped the court’s conservative majority that ended nearly 50 years of constitutional protections for abortion.
Appearing at a Faith & Freedom Coalition gala in Washington on Saturday night, he cited his appointment of three of the six justices who voted to strike down the law as a cornerstone of his presidency. And he presented himself as an unflinching crusader for the Christian right in a meandering speech that lasted nearly 90 minutes.
« No president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I have, » he said, adding, « I did and nobody thought it was even a possibility. »
It was Trump’s eighth appearance before the group, whose support he is trying to consolidate in a crowded G.OP. competition for the 2024 nomination, although he is the favorite in the field. Lui said Republican voters were skeptical of claims by some of his rivals that they were stronger opponents of abortion and suggested the skepticism arose during the campaign.
“One woman stood up and said, ‘This guy put an end to Roe v. Wade. How the hell can you go against him?’” Trump said, without mentioning the candidate or the setting.
A few thousand activists gave Trump a standing ovation when he mentioned the ruling, which he says has empowered conservatives in the ongoing battle over abortion rights. Hundreds more filled a room to excess.
« You have power for the first time, » he said.
Virtually every one of Mr. Trump’s rivals in the crowded GOP field appeared during the group’s three-day Road to Majority conference at the Washington Hilton. The lineup included Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Trump’s main rival, and former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s onetime running mate.
At a rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to commemorate the court’s ruling, Mr Pence urged anti-abortion activists to continue fighting to impose further restrictions on the procedure statewide.
« Save the children and we will save America, » he said, adding, « As the old book says, many more are with us than with them. »
In a speech at the rally the day before, Mr. Pence called on the entire 2024 Republican presidential camp to pledge support for a nationwide 15-week abortion ban, a more extreme ban than Trump has advocated thus far.
David Porter, 64, a Republican from Newport News, Va., who wore a « Walk With Jesus » hat at the rally, praised Trump for his imprint on the judiciary.
« He’s my boyfriend right now, » she said.
Several times in his speech on Saturday night, Trump tried to align himself with the faith community and said it was under attack, just like him.
« Together, we are warriors on a righteous crusade to stop arsonists, atheists, globalists and Marxists, » he said.
Each indictment, he added, was a « great sign of courage ».
« I was indicted for you, » he said.
Trump’s alliance with the Christian right is a study in political expediency, one that has yielded prodigious dividends for both.
In 2016, evangelical voters helped propel Mr. Trump to successive Republican primary victories in South Carolina and other key states, giving him a path to the nomination and ultimately the presidency.
The influential voting bloc has demonstrated its willingness to look beyond the impieties of twice-divorced Mr. Trump, whose extramarital affairs had long been tabloid fodder, and who had a history of supporting abortion rights in the 1990s . Evangelical voters have accepted Trump’s populist narrative, as well as his promises to enact a hardline reset to the nation’s immigration and trade policies and to appoint « pro-life » judges.
The group reaped its gains during Trump’s presidency when he cemented an outright majority in the Supreme Court.
Mr. Trump announced his remake of the nation’s highest court as he once again seeks the support of evangelical voters, this time beset by a cascade of charges, including one in a secret case involving a porn star.
But even as Mr. Trump has highlighted his role in the right-wing fight to end abortion rights, he has repeatedly dodged questions about whether he would sign off on a federal abortion ban if Republicans can drive one through a divided Congress.
Mr. Porter, the Virginia anti-abortion activist, said Mr. Trump’s evasiveness is concerning.
« You either stand up for what you believe or you don’t, » she said.
Mr. DeSantis, who spoke at the evangelical conclave on Friday, sought to defend the right flank against Mr. Trump on abortion policy. He criticized the former president for suggesting a six-week abortion ban signed by DeSantis in Florida was « too harsh. »
Susan Migliore, an anti-abortion activist from Falls Church, Virginia, who said she was religious but not evangelical, told the Lincoln Memorial rally she was grateful for Trump’s court picks, but she hasn’t decided which candidate will sustain in 2024.