Trump asks rally: Can non-‘Christian conservatives’ stay?
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Trump asks rally: Can non-‘Christian conservatives’ stay?

Republican nominee seeks to shore up support from evangelical voting bloc; says in jest what critics claim defines his candidacy

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Canton Memorial Civic Center on September 14, 2016 in Canton, Ohio. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Canton Memorial Civic Center on September 14, 2016 in Canton, Ohio. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON — Republican nominee Donald Trump jokingly singled out people who were not “Christian conservatives” at a rally Wednesday afternoon, asking his supporters if they “should keep them in the room?”

While the comment was undoubtedly made in jest, Trump immediately drew scorn from critics, who have cited his campaign as fostering an environment of bigotry and exclusion.

The controversial candidate’s calls for temporarily banning Muslim entry into the United States, building a wall along the US-Mexico border and creating a mass deportation force for undocumented immigrants are chief among the reasons he has elicited such accusations.

At the campaign gathering in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Trump was commending a “Christian Conservatives for Trump” group in attendance before he summoned the crowd to identify themselves by their religious-political orientation.

“Raise your hand, Christian conservatives, everybody,” he said. “Raise your hand if you’re not a Christian conservative. I want to see this, right. Oh, there’s a couple people, that’s all right. I think we’ll keep them. Should we keep them in the room? Yes? I think so.”

Trump has previously said on the campaign trail he would give Christians more power and respect, telling evangelical pastors “we’re going to get your voice back” and repeatedly saying, “We’re going to protect Christianity.”

Trump’s campaign, which is often noted for its nationalistic inclination, has garnered the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, the head of the American Nazi Party and scores of self-proclaimed white supremacists.

The former reality television star’s latest remarks appeared to be lighthearted, and were part of his effort to mobilize Iowa’s evangelical voting bloc, which could potentially shift the balance of votes in that state this November.

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