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Trump speaks to Faith and Freedom Coalition as Jan. 6 hearings continue

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The January 6 committee has been working to lay out how Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election led to the violence on January 6. It's unclear what the impact of the hearings will be on Trump's future leading the Republican Party.

Christian conservatives in the GOP tend to back the former president. Thousands are gathered in Nashville with the Faith and Freedom Coalition. And Trump addressed them with a lengthy attack against the January 6 committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Remember, in the end, they are not after me. They are after you. That's true. They're after you. They're after everything we stand for.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis joins us now from Nashville. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Have the hearings made any impression on the voters who are attending this event?

DAVIS: Almost none. I mean, they are not watching the hearings. The hearings have almost no credibility. It's been really notable to me. I've been here for two days, and every person that I've spoken to who's attending the conference said that they believe that the election was stolen from Trump or that they believe there was fraud in the election. So they have fully bought into the former president's claims. Trump did...

SHAPIRO: False claims - none of those...

DAVIS: False claims.

SHAPIRO: ...Statements are true, yeah.

DAVIS: Correct. You know, Trump focused heavily on the January 6 committee today and again repeated his election claims that he won the election, which he did not. He also attacked former Vice President Mike Pence for his actions to uphold the results, which the committee examined this week; which is also kind of remarkable at a gathering like this because Pence, you know, for his whole career, had really aligned himself with this wing of the party.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, these used to be Pence's people.

DAVIS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: He was really popular there. So how did the attacks on him go over with the folks attending this event?

DAVIS: Yeah, I talked to a lot of people about that. I spoke to one guy. His name is Bishop W.J. Coleman. He's a pastor from Louisville, Miss. And I asked him if he thought Pence did the right thing on January 6.

BISHOP W J COLEMAN: If that's what he believed in, God bless him, so be it. But if something else come out down the pipeline in the future, let the chips fall where they may.

DAVIS: This was a really common sentiment, this idea that Pence, you know, he thinks he did the right thing, but that he was misguided in their eyes. Pence did speak at this event last year, if you might recall. He was booed down as a traitor by the people who were in attendance. He is not attending this year, though I did ask the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and they told me they did extend an invite to him a couple months ago, but he told them he had a scheduling conflict.

SHAPIRO: So has the level of enthusiasm that the evangelical right feels for Donald Trump changed at all?

DAVIS: Not in this room. I mean, it is really clear that people came here to see him, to hear from him. And there's a whole lot of hope he's going to run for president again in 2024. I saw a woman named Sue Pickens - she's from Orlando, Fla. - and asked her if she wanted to see Trump run again.

SUE PICKENS: I pray for him every day, multiple times a day. I pray for his protection. I pray for his health. And I think he's going to be fine. I think he has unfinished business.

DAVIS: You know, that said, Trump was here, but a lot of people who are thinking about maybe running for president, whether or not Trump does - people like former governor and ambassador Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Senator Rick Scott all here. You know, the White evangelical vote remains very critical to winning the Republican nomination. I spoke to Ralph Reed, who heads up the Faith and Freedom Coalition. And he said their voter file now is about 42 million Americans.

SHAPIRO: You know, any day now, the Supreme Court could overturn Roe vs. Wade. And that has been a goal of the evangelical movement for decades. They have been fighting for a conservative court, fighting to end the nationwide right to an abortion in the U.S. So what are the people you're talking to saying about how they view this moment and where their activism goes from here?

DAVIS: Yeah, this was a question I had for Timothy Head. He's the executive director of the coalition. And I asked that. Where does - what happens to this movement if Roe is overturned? And this is what he said.

TIMOTHY HEAD: We're getting a lot of questions about whether that could kind of stunt turnout in the fall. But because the issue is going to become a state issue, I actually think it will galvanize a lot of those activists in their respective state to make sure that their individual state is kind of locked in.

DAVIS: You know, abortion, he said, will obviously remain the driving force of the movement, reshifting to the state level. But he also made a point that I think is notable. He said there's a lot of focus in the movement right now on corporate America, that faith-based voters were really enthused by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis taking on Disney. DeSantis, of course, himself considering a run in 2024. They even love the idea of Elon Musk buying Twitter because there's this sense that corporate cultures have just been silencing Christian views. So it's likely there could be a new wave of activism among evangelicals against corporations who've been engaging in what they see as social political activism.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Susan Davis at the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Nashville. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.